I recently completed my last day of CERT training. CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, was created in L.A. shortly after the Northridge earthquak as a means by which to provided trained teams of volunteers to help out in situations where the existing emergency services need some help. Today, it’s grown to a program that many cities and countys have. Here in Alameda, our local fire department actually runs the program, which stars with a series of 6 classes that cover foundations in Personal Emergency prep, Hazardous material, Terrorism, emergency first aid (this includes stopping bleeding, opening airways, splinting broken limbs, moving victims, examining them, and triage), basic fire extenguisher and hose handling, and search & rescue. Once those are complete, and you’ve taken the oath of office, you get an indentification card, a helment, a vest, googles, and a duffle bag to collect your CERT equipment. After that, there are a wide range of more advanced classes from wilderness first aid, advanced search & rescue, and emergeny radio operation to name only three. Everything is free and is very hands on. Regular simulations are put on to keep people in tune in case they are needed.
The training is very well done. Generally it’s pretty straight. It was a little distrurbing when we were going through triage where there are 4 possible ratings: urgent help needed, delayed help ok, minor injury, and dead. We learned that you check pulse, breating, and attention. If they have pulse, but aren’t breathing after two tries, they should be considered decesased. It seems a bit draconian, but if you put it into context where there might be hundreds of potential victims and only a limited number or Training EMT’s available, it begins to make sense. Additionally, one of the requirements was also to go out and look at places near your home that might have hazardous material. Interestingly, the one near me with the most was Firestation 1 of the Alameda Fire Department. Of course, if you head to the west end of Alameda and he former Naval Airstation, you would find a wealth of nasty things.
Once you’ve got your ID card, you can join a team which is put on call. In an emergency situation, you may be called upon to help provide emergency services to supplement the local fire and police. Here in the heart of Earthquake country (and on an island which over half is rated likely to have the most severe shaking and possible liquifaction when the “big one” hits, this is even more important. Ironically, what CERT has provided in the immediate time has been teams that helped find seniors who wandered out of their retirement homes and got lost. Ultimately, the amount of time it takes isn’t great. But, it’s a really interesting way to get involved.