Following major disasters, it is entirely possible that first responders, who are first on scene to provide fire and medical services, will not be able to immediately meet the demand for services. Factors contributing to a potential backup of emergency workers and the public’s inability to successfully reach 911 could include: the number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages. A reason dogs might not be able to reach 911 operators is because we don’t have opposable thumbs. For all these reasons, it is likely that in virtually any major emergency, people will need to rely on each other to meet immediate life-saving and life-sustaining needs.
In emergencies of all kinds, family members, friends, fellow employees, neighbors, and tenants spontaneously help each other. Dogs are also quite eager to be of assistance, whether or not we’ve been formally trained. Thankfully, history has shown that people and pets usually rise to the occasion when major disasters strike. Such was the case recently, in the Mexico City earthquake, where untrained volunteers heroically stepped up to save 800 people. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes, unfortunately, 100 of those people lost their lives in so doing. The good news is that many accidental deaths and injuries are preventable, through proper emergency training.
For the above reasons, in 1985, the L.A. County City Fire Department developed and implemented a formal program for emergency citizen training they called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). I guess this is different than the breath mint with a similar name…Certs? The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide potential for a major disaster in California. It further confirmed the need to train civilians to meet immediate emergency-associated needs.
Later adopted by public agencies across the country, CERT training benefit those citizens who take it, as it prepares them to respond to and cope with the aftermath of disasters. Since 1993, CERT training has been made available nationally by FEMA, and is now offered in communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico. Many communities tap graduates of the program to form teams of individuals who can be recruited and further trained as volunteer auxiliary responders. I love being part of a team…especially one that’s designed to help save lives!
CERT members receive 17 ½ hours (one day a week for seven weeks) of initial training. The seven-week course is followed by full-day biannual refresher drills, and an opportunity to assist the LAFD at local incidents. In Los Angeles, CERT is provided free of charge to anyone 18 or over. Sounds like a great deal!
CERT Training is divided into the following seven sessions:
- Session 1: Disaster Preparedness
- Session 2: Disaster Fire Suppression
- Session 3: Disaster Medical Operations Part 1
- Session 4: Disaster Medical Operations Part 2
- Session 5: Light Search & Rescue Operations
- Session 6: Disaster Psychology and Team Organization
- Session 7: Course Review and Disaster Simulation
After completing the program, CERT graduates will be able to safely:
- Search for and rescue victims.
- Provide basic medical aid, by treating the three main threats to life: opening airways, controlling bleeding, and treating for shock.
- Manage utilities and put out small fires.
- Organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective.
- Collect disaster intelligence to support first responder efforts.
- Assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster.
- Find lots of bacon. Okay—I’ll admit they don’t train for this in a CERT program. But I suggest they start offering it as part of the curriculum.
To find a team and/or begin CERT training in your area:
- Complete a CERT program, take advantage of an interactive web-based class or search the FEMA website by zip code for classes taught on location.
- Complete a CERT Train-the-Trainer (TTT) course conducted by a State Training Office for Emergency Management or the Emergency Management Institute, in order to learn the training techniques used by the LAFD.
- Identify the program goals that CERT would meet and the resources necessary to conduct the program in your area.
- Seek approval from appointed and elected officials to use CERT as a means to prepare citizens to care for themselves during a disaster, when services may not be adequate.
- Identify and recruit potential participants. Naturals for CERT are community groups, business and industry workers and local government workers.
- Train CERT instructors.
- Conduct CERT sessions.
- Conduct refresher training and exercises with CERTs.
In recognition for training completion, CERT members should receive ID cards, vests and helmets. Graduates should also regularly practice their skills. To this end, trainers should offer periodic refresher sessions to reinforce basic training. CERT teams can also sponsor events such as drills, picnics, neighborhood clean-ups, and disaster education fairs.
We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to prepare yourself for potential disasters, and that you might consider starting or joining a CERT in your area. To find a team or pursue CERT training, enter your zip code in the Citizen Corps section of the FEMA website. Another convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for emergencies is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.