by Donia Moore
Do you know how to stabilize a broken bone? Are you aware that you have to pull a pin on a fire extinguisher to put out a fire? Could you safely release someone trapped under rubble or debris? Hopefully, those are not skills most of us will ever need, but what if…?
September 11, 2001 reminded us of the importance of being able to survive on our own until emergency first responders could reach us. Katrina and other natural disasters emphasized that point. Those of us who have grown up in earthquake-ridden California have had that drilled into our consciousness over and over again. So, where are we now?
Community Emergency Response Team - What is it?
Now we have CERT - Community Emergency Response Team - a training program designed to help us help ourselves and our families, as well as our neighbors and community. Not only are we fortunate enough to have our own CERT training program right here in San Clemente, the same training program also exists in most towns across the country - in the exact same format. This means that any CERT trained volunteer can go to any other community in the country and follow the exact same regimen they trained for in their own communities. That’s a small army of neighbors helping neighbors in the event of a crisis.
Katie Carpenter, MPA, is the Emergency Planning Coordinator for the City of San Clemente, and an exceptional CERT trainer. Her no-nonsense approach and her warm, caring personality keep her classes interesting and informative from start to finish.
“CERT is a nationally recognized, proactive, and realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where citizens like you can make a difference. The main goal of CERT is to help ordinary citizens learn the skills and confidence to effectively respond to others in need without placing themselves in unnecessary danger,” Katie recently told a class of San Clemente trainees.
CERT was originally developed in 1985 by the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), as a way to help citizens survive devastating earthquakes and help their family and neighbors until responders or other assistance could arrive. The training model developed by LAFD was soon adopted by fire departments across the country, including communities where the major threat was hurricanes, rather than earthquakes. In 1994, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) expanded the training course to be applicable to all hazards, making the program available to communities nationwide. While administered overall by FEMA, each training course is implemented locally. Communities across the nation have created Citizen Corps Councils as effective partnerships between government and community leaders for emergency planning, integration of community resources, outreach of localized training and education, emergency communication, drills, and volunteer programs.
How Does it Work?
CERT teams are now in place in most cities and towns. Volunteers sign up for a CERT training course, which meets once a week for six weeks, for a total of 20 hours of training. Attendance at class is mandatory, as each meeting is filled with critical training and information. Classes are held in the evenings. A graduation exercise follows the classes and, with a little more paperwork, graduates may become part of the City’s volunteer CERT team.
San Clemente’s CERT training class is offered twice a year. It’s not a sit-at-a -desk- and take- notes type of class. In fact, if you have had any Scout training for a First Aid Merit badge, you’re ahead of the game. You’ll be given hands-on experience about temporarily splinting broken bones with anything handy, when not to use a tourniquet to stop bleeding (never if you can help it), “cribbing” to remove a person from under debris, how to “triage” by dividing seriously injured people from those with minor injuries so health workers can get to them faster.
You’ll understand how to turn off your gas line in the event of an emergency, familiarize yourself with disaster psychology, and recognize eight signs of terrorism activity and learn whom to report them to.
You don’t have to be strong and physically fit to participate. Because so much of the class involves teamwork, people of every physical level can participate. The more residents who want to learn how to help themselves and others, the better off the community will be.
Much of the class involves planning for an emergency, preparing first aid kits, following directions, and learning administrative techniques such as specific documentation to assist professional responders as they arrive. All of these skills are as necessary as the more physically involved skills.
In San Clemente, as everyone is aware, there are some unusual circumstances to deal with. Regardless of how people feel about adding a toll road, or where it goes, the reality is that San Clementeans have limited access to the outside world if a major disaster should happen here. That means limited response time for help making its way to the residents quickly. This CERT course will help you and your family prepare for disaster eventualities by educating you and providing hands-on training in a variety of simulated emergency situations.
How Can I Help My Family?
Katie offered some Emergency Preparedness tips for all community members to help them prepare on their own in case a disaster strikes.
• Assemble a disaster supply kit for family and pets
• Develop a disaster plan - where and how will you reunite family members, pets
• Develop a safe room, away from any windows, or a safe spot, underneath a table
• Keep emergency supplies, including food and water for three days for household members and pets, a flashlight with extra batteries, a portable radio, a fire extinguisher and tools
• Be aware of evacuation options versus sheltering-in-place
• Secure bookshelves, water heaters, and tall furniture to wall studs
• Identify and label any hazardous materials you may have
• Know how to turn off gas, electricity, water
• Keep a tested portable fire extinguisher available and know how to use it
• Keep shoes and a flashlight under the bed
After the all clear is given in an emergency, who ya gonna call? For one, says Katie, “Call the gas company to come out and turn your gas back on - you should never turn it on yourself.”
CERT team meetings and drills are held quarterly throughout the year, offering team members continuous educational updates. There are a number of other related classes that CERT team members may attend. Communications classes include radio communication and first aid and CPR classes are often available.
No matter what your contribution to the community’s safety might be, it never hurts to have as much education as you can get, even if it’s knowing that you have to pull that pin before you squeeze the fire extinguisher. Who knew? You do.
The Next Opportunity to train for the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) begins March 5, 2105.To register, or obtain additional information about the CERT program, please contact: e-msilCERT@san-clemente.org. (949) 361-6109