By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff writer | Published September 23, 2016
MARIETTA—Only 24 percent of Georgians say they are fully prepared in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Faith communities can play an important role in both training of members and responding to such emergencies.
Sal Gullo, state disaster coordinator for the Georgia Knights of Columbus, has announced upcoming disaster preparedness courses to be offered beginning Oct. 15 at St. Joseph School in Marietta.
In the event of natural disasters, it takes emergency personnel time to respond to all who need it.
“So, what we do is to teach people how to sustain until first responders get there,” said Gullo.
Among topics covered in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training are light search and rescue, team organization, disaster medical operations, terrorism and fire safety. The training concludes with a disaster simulation.
The CERT training is offered with the backing of the Cobb County Emergency Management Agency.
“They support us 100 percent. It helps us a tremendous amount,” said Gullo.
The concept behind the training, said Gullo, is a “force multiplier,” which strengthens first responders with a prepared volunteer base.
“We teach you how much food to have on stock,” added Gullo. “Also, we teach disaster psychology.”
For the remainder of 2016, classes will be held Saturdays, Oct. 15, 22 and 29, and on Nov. 5, 19 and Dec. 3. The classes run from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and students earn a certificate at course completion.
In addition to the three-Saturday class format, the Knights will offer Tuesday and Thursday evening programs over a seven-week period. Dates will be announced.
The classes are offered free of charge. Class size is limited to 30 students per session.
Gullo said that in addition to St. Joseph’s, St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw and Holy Family Church in Marietta are also planning to be training sites.
His initial goal was to offer the training to the Knights of Columbus and their families, but the training has expanded and is open to ushers, other volunteers, parishioners and parish staff. Anyone age 16 or older can take the classes.
Gullo is a former New York firefighter, and this is his way to continue serving the public.
“I always felt the need to do something for people,” he said. “I just miss it so much. I think you’re born a fireman.”
He has trained ushers at St. Joseph on how to respond to various emergencies, and on a recent Sunday spoke after Mass to invite parishioners to be trained.
“It does a lot of good to know there’s someone next to you who went through the training,” Gullo told them.
Gullo’s eventual hope is that each parish will have one representative capable of conducting CERT training.
After Gullo’s son died in 2012, a fellow parishioner urged him to join the Knights of Columbus. He and his wife talked about it and thought his involvement in the organization would be good.
KOC State Deputy Mark McMullen asked Gullo to oversee the organization’s second responder program and disaster response unit for the entire state.
Gullo, joined by Bernard King of Cobb Emergency Management, presented programs on handling situations involving active shooters in January. They presented programs at the archdiocesan Chancery in Smyrna, Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City, St. Pius X Church in Conyers, and Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch.
Following an April 8 tornado in Warner-Robins, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency dispatched Knights from Marietta who had been certified in the training to be chainsaw crews. For two days, the Knights helped homeowners in the affected area clean up downed trees, limbs and debris from roads and properties. The tornado destroyed or damaged 1,000 homes.
Gullo will never forget one grateful lady whom the Knights helped. She cried as they left.
“She just looked at us and said, ‘I can’t believe you would come all the way from Marietta’,” said Gullo.