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Image: Michael Schroeder, Environmental Health Specialist. CDP EHTER 2013 Graduate. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

Michael Schroeder, Environmental Health Specialist. CDP EHTER 2013 Graduate. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill.-A violent tornado outbreak created havoc across seven states, Nov. 17. Records revealed this was the most fierce tornado event ever during the month of November. Around 1 p.m., the town of Gifford and other parts of Champaign County experienced crippling winds as three tornados left thousands without power, destroyed water systems and badly damaged public infrastructure.

Environmental Health Specialist Michael Schroeder was on call that day and knew all too well his responsibility to his community following the devastating storm.

"I attended the CDP's [Environmental Health Training in Emergency Response] EHTER course Nov. 3," said Schroeder. "I knew that the information learned would someday be applied, but not this soon. The course material is an excellent resource to use when responding to real-life events, developing an emergency response plan and training others in my division."

According to Schroeder, the hardest hit area in his jurisdiction lost access to wastewater disposal, potable water, adequate food sources and food storage. He said many in the public are not aware of the diseases and other illnesses that can affect individuals or even worse, an entire community.

Image: Thousands of homes and businesses were affected by the Illinois tornados. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

Thousands of homes and businesses were affected by the Illinois tornados. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

"This was my first response to a real-life disaster," said Schroeder. "The EHTER course builds confidence and improved my communication skills. The course applied my daily environmental health duties to emergency response."

In early 2009, the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala., partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, to deliver the EHTER Introductory Level course at the CDP. EHTER provides a unique opportunity to teach public health officials environmental responsibilities during an emergency. The course aligns all branches of emergency response and identifies key principles environmental health specialists should follow during a disaster.

Over the past five years, more than 1,526 environmental health specialists and other emergency responders from across the United States have attended EHTER training. Of those, 23 are from the state of Illinois.

"Before November [2013] I was put in charge of determining the role of environmental health in a disaster," said Schroeder. "Our emergency preparedness coordinators informed me of the CDP training and that it may be beneficial. I just did not know how beneficial at the time-none of us did."

Image: The town of Gifford's water tower stands unscathed. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

The town of Gifford's water tower stands unscathed. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schroeder)

Schroeder said his responsibility to protect fellow Illinoisans from illness was recognized daily during his CDP training. The course reinforced critical skills to protect the public and maintain a healthy environment.

"The EHTER course provided me tools to draft an effective emergency response plan for the Environmental Health Division," he said. "Although [the response plan] was not complete, my training made a difference in the environmental response and helped to assure the overall health and safety of those affected by the storm."

The four-day EHTER course includes presentations by environmental experts from around the country, including specialists from the CDC, U.S. Public Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CDP offers more than 40 courses that are multidisciplinary and others specific to individual emergency response disciplines.

CDP training is fully funded for tribal, state, and local response personnel. Round-trip air and ground transportation, lodging, and meals are provided at no cost to responders or their agency or jurisdiction. The CDP plays a leading role in preparing state, local and tribal responders to prepare for and respond to manmade events or major accidents involving mass casualties. To learn more about the Center for Domestic Preparedness, visit https://cdp.dhs.gov or call 866-213-9553. Visit the CDP on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cdpfema and follow the center on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cdpfema.