Monday, September 21, 2015

CERT: Community Emergency Response Team

When disaster strikes your community, do you know what to do for yourself, your family, or neighborhood? Your city or county probably has a CERT program for training volunteers. The classes are free. You do need to commit to all 20 hours, typically two hours a night, once a week. I took a weekend class, 4 hours on Friday night, and two 8-hour days Saturday and Sunday.  And, of course, you can find a wealth of information online to supplement the training.
About half of our class of 40
were FEMA Corps
volunteers from around
the USA.

The organizing framework is called the Incident Command Structure. ICS is becoming common across all first responder agencies. I learned it when I worked as a contract technical writer for the Texas Department of Public Safety. I learned it again when I joined the Texas State Guard.  You can find the ICS explained online in a certification tutorial from FEMA.  (See IS-100a on the FEMA independent study online course guide here.)  ICS is how the Austin Police plan for all the parties we have here – South by Southwest, Austin City Limits Live, Formula One, Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, and over a dozen races, runs, and marathons, and another dozen parades, marches, and celebrations.  You can plan a birthday party by following the Incident Command Structure.

For training, an electronic simulation of a fire
is less consequential.
The salient point for first responders is that the first person on the scene is the Incident Commander until the next more qualified person arrives.  Qualification is not by rank. If a rookie cop has completed ICS training, but her captain has not, she remains in command of the incident. (If the incident involves multiple agencies and jurisdictions, the police captain could become a member of a unified command team.) The commonality of FEMA ICS usually means that some senior responder from the fire department or emergency medical service holds all the right certifications, but it could be anyone.

In addition to the ICS, the 20-hour CERT training covers expected emergencies, with fire being the common denominator. Where you live, the likely event might be a flood, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake. Each has its special demands, while fire makes a good model for all of them.  We also covered general preparedness, floods, medical responses, search and rescue, the psychology of disasters, and terrorism.  Though not a Red Cross certification in active response, the medical session was extensive, and took six-and-a-half hours.
My search-and-rescue team after our exercise.

“Spontaneous volunteers” have been called “the disaster within the disaster.” They want to help, and they bring important resources, not the least of which is enthusiasm, which is important to on-site  workers who are fatigued.  But spontaneous volunteers often arrive without food, water, bedding, or tools.   This class gives you a firm understanding of what you need to do in order to be most helpful to the most people in the shortest time.  That mandate from the ethics of utilitarianism is the watchword: “The greatest good for the greatest number in the shortest time.”


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