The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 20, 2013

Emergency response team hones skills at training camp

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

BOSWELL — Almost certainly, no Cambria County Special Emergency Response Team members will ever be called upon to create a small bridge out of two pieces of wood and rope, use the newfangled walkway to get a group of individuals from one point to another, pick up an object at the end of the course and then figure out a way back to the starting point.

But the skills SERT officers gain by participating in drills like those – leadership, teamwork, trust and creativity – can be invaluable when they are serving and protecting the community.

On Monday, members of Cambria County SERT took part in exercises designed to hone those intangible skills at Outdoor Odyssey, a leadership training facility in Somerset County.

“Obviously, it was both physically and mentally challenging,” said Thomas Owens, a member of the county’s SERT unit and Johnstown Police Department. “It had to do a lot with problem solving and sticking with each other, learning the strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team and supporting each member of the team so that we could successfully complete the mission and overcome the obstacles.

“In my opinion, it was a great team-building and leadership-building exercise.”

The drills also were designed to help improve verbal and silent communication between SERT team members, who respond to situations involving hostages, armed and barricaded suspects, suicidal subjects and potentially high-risk warrant recipients.

“The communication process is the big thing,” said Michael Kanuch, a SERT officer and a Johnstown police officer.

Cambria County’s SERT officers received a free day of training at the facility, thanks to an invitation from Outdoor Odyssey.

“We’re a leadership academy,” said Brandon Jones, the company’s director of operations. “That’s what we’re all about – developing leadership in individuals and teams. We’re basically trying to give people an opportunity to work together in a team and learn that they can be more successful when they depend on one another and communicate better and work together as a group.”

SERT members expect to be back at Outdoor Odyssey on Sept. 21 to participate in the Roaring Run All Mountain Challenge, a grueling 11-mile run through the woods with 25 obstacles to overcome along the way. Money raised from the event will benefit the Semper Fi Odyssey program for wounded warriors.

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