Phil Amtower is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.
I have been involved in public safety for over 20 years. For the past 16 years, I have worked in the field of emergency management. I started out as a volunteer firefighter, and my passion for public safety grew from there.
In 1997, I was appointed by the county commission as Emergency Management Director. This was basically a volunteer position; I received $100 a month of pay and had a budget of merely $5,000 per year. I continued my emergency management work in this capacity until 2003, when I convinced the county commission that this position needed to be a full-time job. After 3 months as a full-time employee, we had our first major emergency. An F-3 tornado made its way through the western part of our county and left a wide path of destruction.
The next day, I was incredibly overwhelmed. There was a whole lot of work to do, and I was only one person! I decided that we needed more members of our community involved in emergency preparedness and management, so I decided to start a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). I took the train-the-trainer course and taught my first class to our first group of volunteers in October 2003.
Since then, we have taught 53 classes and trained over 1,000 people in our county alone. The main goal of CERT is to train people to be better prepared for disasters and to empower them to help themselves and others in the wake of a disaster. After completing the course, the students can sign up as CERT volunteers. Right now, we have over 200 CERT volunteers in our county, and they provide over 4,000 service hours annually. This incredible team has been instrumental in preparing our communities for disasters before they strike.
Later, it became clear to me that we needed to work with other CERT volunteers across the state to address crises when they occur. In May 2011, an F-5 tornado hit southwest Missouri and devastated the city of Joplin. While thousands of CERT volunteers across Missouri responded, each CERT group responded in a different way. That uncoordinated approach hurt our emergency response efforts. After that, I decided that we needed a unified approach that would alleviate some of the duplication that happened in Joplin and harness all the resources from southwest Missouri’s CERT groups. When all of the groups next met, I pitched the idea, and MO CERT 1 was born. So far, the MO CERT 1 team has been deployed all across the Midwest, from Moore, Oklahoma, to Baxter Springs, Kansas, to Branson, Missouri. The team can provide shelter support, perform wilderness search and rescue, remove debris, and conduct damage assessments and wellness checks.
My experiences have shown me that we can only respond effectively to emergencies if we come together and rely on each other. It’s been incredibly meaningful to help make that happen in my home state of Missouri.
Phil Amtower is the Director of Emergency Management for Christian County, Missouri and the Task Force Leader for MO CERT 1.