Tehachapi Community Emergency Response Team celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, along with the milestone 80th birthday of one of its founding members, Jim Nelson.

Join CERT in its anniversary celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 25, at Souza Family Vineyards, where Nelson and other CERT members will act as celebrity bartenders to help raise funds to buy new equipment for new teams.

Nelson is one of the founding members of a team of dedicated, community-minded residents who started CERT in Bear Valley Springs. He still leads the Greater Tehachapi Valley CERT and continues to be actively involved in the program. He undertakes much of the teaching of the CERT classes (and has recently appointed Jeannie Taylor as lead trainer), sits on the board of Friends of Ready CERT and has participated in every CERT activation to date.

Before the formation of BVS CERT, Nelson was a Los Angeles County firefighter for 35 years, retiring in 2005. During this time, he and his wife, Dawn, bought their property in BVS. They met current board member Don Kordes and his wife, Phyllis, and the couples became firm friends. Don was asked by some of his friends to help the BVS Community Services District form a disaster council because, at that time, BVS did not have an emergency plan. Several residents were selected to serve on the council after a recruitment drive. Nelson became a member of the disaster council, which went to work putting together a disaster plan. Walt Mundy, together with Don and Jim, was instrumental in formulating the plan.

Supported by the BVS CSD, the members of the disaster council set up a CERT program to run themselves. Nelson was an ideal candidate as he had appropriate knowledge and skills. When the feelers were put out to find other instructors, Bob Howe, Binni Calendar and Patty Wooten were also selected to travel to Emmetsburg, Md., and undergo the CERT “Train-The-Trainer” course. These intrepid trainees set out to go to the Emergency Management Institute in December 2001, just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

After returning from the course, full of enthusiasm and raring to go, Nelson and his team put on their first CERT basic training class in January 2002. Notifications about the class were distributed and there was a great response from local residents, resulting in 35 prominent leaders in the community taking the first class.

In 2004, it was decided that there was a need for a foundation to run the financial and organizational structure of the program. To this end a non-profit 501c3 was established. This would be a vehicle for grants and fundraising, thus relieving the community services district of the financial burden of developing CERT.

Grant money enabled CERT helmets and vests to be bought and these were provided to every class participant. About a year after CERT was first established, Chief Jojola activated CERT to hand out literature in connection with a missing person case.

At first the CERT training efforts concentrated on BVS. By the second year, as BVS CERT developed, the benefits for our community became clear, and it seemed obvious that it would be valuable to other local communities. The next step was to start CERT classes in other areas. A pattern developed whereby CERT classes were held in BVS every fall and spring classes were held in other, neighboring communities such as Golden Hills, Stallion Springs and Mountain Aire. From these beginnings, other teams began to develop in the Greater Tehachapi Valley region.

Mighty oak trees do indeed from tiny acorns grow, and CERT programs in the Greater Tehachapi Valley area and Kern County continue to thrive. In total there are more than 1,000 people in and around the GTV area alone who have been CERT trained — and more join the ranks every year. Sand Canyon has an active CERT program, which focuses on coping with emergencies in their unique and challenging circumstances.

Stallion Springs CERT’s energetic program plays a significant role in many aspects of their community life, including being an invaluable asset to the Stallion Springs Police Department. Kern Valley River’s program trained the first CERT class in Ridgecrest. They also assisted Retired Capt. Clay Flad to start CERT in Pine Mountain. Currently Golden Hills, Old West Ranch, Alpine Forest, the City of Tehachapi, Mojave, and others are developing strong CERT programs. Hart Flat is on the horizon within the next year. Our most recent spring CERT graduates are already active on their teams and will be a wonderful asset to their areas.

This trend will continue as more communities realize the importance of preparing in advance of emergencies or disasters. As we continually face wildfires, landslides, severe weather events, floods and, perhaps even one day a major earthquake, more and more people grasp the need to be prepared to look after themselves when danger threatens. CERT, now in its 31st year across the country, provides this opportunity to become trained and join their community teams.

These certainly are exciting times for CERT members. They are becoming progressively more involved in many community events such as the Challenge the Bear and Gran Fondo bike rides, National Night Out, Fire & Safety Expos, Cheers for Charity, Tehachapi Mountain Festival Parade, Tehachapi Beer and Wine Festival, Thunder on the Mountain, etc. We are also increasingly partnering with and working alongside our fellow volunteer organizations such as the American Red Cross, BVS Volunteers In Police Service, HAM Radio Clubs, Central California Animal Disaster Team, California Volunteers, etc.

Five years ago, as a result of the county chief being impressed with the content of CERT training, one of the Fire Department training captains was appointed liaison to local CERT programs. This has boosted the significance of CERT and Kern County Fire Department now plays a crucial role in the CERT program, as they are the official sponsor of Kern County CERT. Under the helm of KFCD Training Capt. Mitch Bonner, they are now leading training sessions for all Kern County teams, in addition to local team training. Quarterly meetings between KCFD and the Kern County CERT Group take place in coordination with the Kern County Office of Emergency Services. Many CERT members from teams all over the county have recently become registered as deployable, and may well be activated in emergencies or disasters in the future.

Fiona Nelson is a member of the Community Emergency Response Team.