What is CERT? For those of you who have not come across this before it stands for Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.). This a group of volunteers organized and trained at the community level to deal with both man-made and natural disasters.
I was first introduced to the concept of CERT when I was reading the Urban Survival Guide by David Morris. The book talked about different ways to get survival training. While CERT doesn’t teach you to build fires or survive the zombie apocalypse, you will learn triage medicine, fire suppression, and basic search and rescue skills.
Following the 9-11 attacks, the Citizens Corp was created by FEMA, which is now under the Department of Homeland Security. Citizens Corp is intended to help individuals and communities be better prepared to have an organized respond to emergencies before the first responders arrive. Other Citizen Corp groups include Neighborhood Watch, Fire Corp, Medical Reserve Corp (MRC), and Volunteers in Police Program (VIPS). The curriculum and organizational structure are defined by FEMA but a local government entity is responsible for sponsoring each of the community level Citizens Corp group.
Where I live the CERT program is sponsored by the county’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA). In some areas, the CERT program is sponsored the local fire department or other emergency response organizations. The sponsoring organization can provide both access to the local government infrastructure and oversight. They are also responsible for activating and deploying the local CERT teams if needed.
The CERT program is designed to be completed in about 22 hours of combined lectures and hands-on exercises. My local program met for 2.5 hours one evening a week for 10 weeks. Some of the other programs locally offer the training in two weekend days. The training is broken into 9 modules followed by a written and demonstrated skills test.
This section was a basic overview of different types of disasters and basic steps that you can take to prepare for them. We discussed specific regional disasters that we might face. For Indiana, life threatening we talked more about the impact from tornadoes and winter weather. We spent less time focused on mudslides or hurricanes. If we are facing a hurricane that probably means the eastern seaboard has fallen into the ocean; in that case, we have a lot bigger issues on our hands. There was also some discussion around preparing at home, in your car, and at work.
While I have started my share of fires (all legal and with minimal property damage) I have never gotten to pull the trigger on a fire extinguisher, until this class. During the training session, the local fire department brought in a simulator that used laser and LED’s to practice with. However, when it came time for the final test we set a 50-gallon barrel on fire and got to put them out. Pull the pin, squeeze, sweep, and grin, repeat as needed.
Disaster Medical Operations
There were two units covered on medical operations. The first covered basic triage of both a life-threatening conditions and mass causality site. We learned to do quick size ups for the three major killers and how to quickly stabilize a patient if possible. We also practice triage exercise when dealing with mass casualties like a bus accident or building damage. The first unit was very focused on maximizing support with limited resources.
The second unit covered more individual first aid. We looked at how to control bleeding, use of bandaging and splinting materials, as well as basic first aid. Between the two units, we also had some ethical conversations. For most of us, human nature is to stop and help someone in need, but in triage, it is to assess and maximize how resources are utilized.
For most of us, human nature is to stop and help someone in need, but in triage, it is to assess and maximize how resources are utilized. An example would be, coming across a young child with a compound fracture at a car crash scene. The child is in a safe place and the injury is not life threatening. Do you stop to console the child and treat the injury or do you move on? Prior to this class I had never given it any thought or taken the time consider how to react.
Light Search & Rescue Operations
Much of this unit was focused safety and what not to do. We looked at different techniques for assessing a building damage and criteria for safe entry. We also talked about and practices different search techniques with low light simulations. There was discussion around how to properly mark and document search activities. We also did several exercises on cribbing and blocking, safe ways to remove someone from a collapsed structure. A life-size game of Pick-Up-Sticks with a CPR dummy at the bottom can really add some perspective to what the professionals can do.
This unit focused on the operational model for the group during training, daily activity, and during deployments. The organization structure was similar to what you would see with the military or any other government organization that needed to function in high stress and fluid situations. We studied both the formal Incident Command System and the National Incident management System. Understanding both of these topics provide a lot of insight into how and why government agencies respond to disasters. Knowing the game plan makes it a lot easier to play the game.
Disasters can take thier toll on not only the survivors but those who are there to help. In this unit, we learned about different ways to engage survivors (their not victims but survivors) and behavior queues to be aware of. We also spent time talking about the potential impact to the team and how to help ensure the health of volunteers as well.
Terrorism & CERT
This unit talked more about some of the terrorist threats facing our country, different ways to prepare, and key things to watch out for. It is made very clear that CERT is not designed to respond to these types of incidents but as individuals, we are not always given the choice when something happens.
Review & Disaster Simulation
At the end of the course, we completed a multiple choice test than participated in a disaster simulation exercise. The exercise gave us the opportunity to practice what we had been trained to do. Our final day was held on a Saturday morning. That day I had stabilized an arterial bleed, rescued a man from a building collapse, lead an incident response team through a neighborhood after a tornado, and put out a diesel fuel fire all before lunch. I even had time to treat my sons compound fracture in the first aid scenario.
Once we completed the program each graduating member was provided with a CERT response pack and basic safety gear that we had been trained to use. My local program offers opportunities after the initial class for monthly refresher classes and training exercises. While there is no requirement or expectations with some teams to participate, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with other like-minded individuals in my community.
While the CERT pack now rides in the trunk of my car, just in case of the everyday unexpected, the skills I learned are always with me.
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