RALEIGH, N.C. — Ham radio operators and Neighborhood Watch groups have a new calling -- Homeland Security is establishing a citizen force.
In Raleigh, training began Friday for the Citizen Corps, which are financed in the area by a $35,000 grant to the Raleigh Fire Department.
The groups are trained by CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team. In the citizen force, regular people such as substitute teachers, software engineers and computer consultants learn how to help emergency workers at the scene of a disaster, storm or terrorist act.
"People are interested in knowing what they can do in the event of an emergency and CERT training prepares them for that," said Cliff Stevenson of CERT.
Stevenson says the class teaches simple skills.
"We can take care of more surface issues like getting debris off the road," said Jim Tarantino, a student in CERT.
The Raleigh Fire Department is also learning how to use the money from the Homeland Security Department.
In this case, it's either use it or lose it. This is a six-month grant, so training for the first group has come down to the very end of the year.
"They don't just give us a blank check, every single dollar is accountable," Stevenson said.
So far, Homeland Security money in North Carolina has helped to buy a new fire truck in Bethany and pay for a disaster drill in Warrenton.
Local fire departments have replaced aging equipment and bought protective gear.
Grant money may also buy disaster kits for all the participants in the CERT program.
Another training session is coming up December 17 through 19 and more students are welcome. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org