BY PAULA DOUBLEDAY
CERT Training: Do the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number
As your DBCNA webmaster, I thought it was time I “walk the talk” and take the CERT training. We have just one week left of the 5-week class. Below are my blogs (with the last one listed first) about the experience and hopefully encourage more neighbors to take advantage of this opportunity. After the latest disasters in Japan and tornadoes in the US, we can all see that it is important to be able to count on our neighbors in such situations…and wouldn’t it be great if our neighbors actually knew what to do? My goal is to be one of those! Here we go!!
Week Five: Simulations
Week 5 is our last class where we get to put into ACTION what we have been learning in the form of two 30-minute simulations. Ten of us got together the Sunday before to discuss team assignments for the first simulation, responsibilities, plan of action, and eat cookies. I was the Incident Commander for the first one and thought I had a good plan…well I thought I did.
Twenty wonderful volunteers came to the Fire Station and with blood and injury makeup were scattered about the disaster scene. Some were high school students getting community service credit.
S we entered the simulated disaster scene, there was lots of drama. Screaming, yelling, oh my heavens. It was chaotic. There were two fires burning, a downed “hot” wire, many injuries, and lots of people in the tower who were injured. It was a tough, stressful 30 minutes.
First job was to look at the map to see where the supplies were stored and send the Logistics team out to retrieve. Logistics began to set up the hospital while Medical Operations stocked up on their first aid supplies, and headed out into the disaster area to assess the injuries.
You have probably seen the “tower” in the parking lot at Fire Station #2 across from Whole Foods. We had 5 or 6 injuries in the tower. The Search and Rescue team sent 2 people into the tower to search the whole building and call down, via one of only two walkie-talkies that we had, the injuries they found. One by one, they would walk or carry the injured down and call us to send a medical team to the front door. IN retrospect, we should’ve sent a second team into the tower to help. But this is where the chaos of the situation and our inexperience comes into play. We all walked away with such respect for our first responders who know how to asses a situation and assign proper team strength to those areas where it is needed.
At the end of 30 minutes, simulation ended, we did a quick debrief and then regrouped for a second one. This one went a little better than the first, but still chaotic. Moving patients to the hospital and then determining who should get the most attention proved difficult. Our heroic volunteers were carefully instructed as to their injuries and whether they were mobile. As in a real disaster, there were people deemed to be “walking wounded” with minor injuries. We recruited some of those people to help.
Clearly in a real disaster we would be covering a larger area, perhaps have people dribbling in to help rather than starting off with 32 people needing immediate assignments, but we would also have the adrenaline rush of real injuries, real confusion and the awareness of our skill limit. It was a sobering experience.
What I Learned From CERT
I walk away from this class with a few thoughts. First, it was truly a great thing to do and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. Even if you don’t think you’d want to run out and help the neighborhood, it will raise your awareness and skills to take care of yourself and your family.
Two, I have an even deeper appreciation for our first responders who do this for a living and all they do in an emergency. Third, I will be organizing a team in my neighborhood so that we can group together to help each other in an emergency, and coordinate our supply cache. And lastly, I hope there are opportunities to participate in other simulations to practice these teachings and keep them fresh.
We know there is a good chance of a major earthquake in the Bay Area. We know there could be wildfires. We need to be prepared. There is a CERT training in San Rafael in September. Learn more and sign up at
This week was focused on light search and rescue. First we had to learn what “light” means. Basically if a house is leaning or appears structurally unsound then we leave it alone and don’t enter. However, light damage along with some information that people are trapped inside is a situation we can handle. How do we know anyone is inside? Someone might tell us, we could hear calls for help, look in the windows and see someone trapped, etc. But once we get inside, what do we do?
We got into our gear and headed outside. First we learn that it is possible to lift big things OFF of people who are trapped. In the parking lot, there was a 2000 lb chunk of concrete (seriously, did they weigh it?) with a scarecrow person UNDER the block. We created a team and with a metal pole and scrap wood, actually lifted that concrete slab off the scarecrow (he was clearly a dead scarecrow). It is amazing what you can do with leverage!
In preparation for the final simulations next week, we did a short simulation of a search and rescue. Teams were formed and S&R headed off to the tower for a mission. My buddy Greg and I turned on our helmet lights and began searching the 5 floors of the tower. We found 3 victims in there, one of which (our classmate of course) would not stop screaming (they told her to be hysterical). Even though it’s not real, it’s unnerving. But we searched the whole building and brought out the victims. It was a little creepy in there and I was glad there wasn’t a fire and smoke—how scary that must be!!
Now we begin our planning for the full simulations next tuesday, where we will pull together all that we have learned for two 30 minute drills, volunteer victims (complete with fake blood), fire, and who knows what else!! This may be for some of the class, the only opportunity to develop just a little “muscle memory” about disaster organization and activity, so we need to make the most of it!
The focus in this class was on Triage and Fires! As you can see from the photo to the left (thank you Angela), we actually used fire extinguishers to put out a fire. Everyone got a chance. How many of us had never used one? This was a great experience! It also prompted me to purchase a fire extinguisher! How many of us, like me, had one little 25-year old extinguisher in the kitchen? Buy a new one. Shake it a couple times a year. If the fire doesn’t go out get out of the house!
We also learned that the diamond shaped signs with blue, red and yellow blocks you see on buildings and trucks, indicate types of chemicals residing in the marked space. If we see a sign like that, stay away and wait for firefighters, as it is too dangerous and we are not equipped to handle it. This reinforces the thread of information we are hearing that OUR role is very basic and our safety paramount.
Our triage exercise was great. Half the class was given cards describing their injury, respiration rate, circulation rate and mental state, and sent outside in the parking lot. The rest of us came outside and had 30 seconds per victim to do an assessment as to whether they needed immediate, delayed or minor care…oh, and there was one victim who was dead. Eeek! In a real emergency we would have to actually assess their condition as quickly as possible (no note cards around their neck in real life!), and mark them with a piece of tape identifying their status.
These are the things we can do: Check their breathing (open the airway), control bleeding, check capillary refill, and ask questions to asses their mental state (often a sign of shock). This first assessment is still a very quick process to “triage”, or sort, the victims so the ones in most need of help will get our time first.
While this is just the first step in disaster first aid, it is a big one and I can see that doing disaster drills is critical to being able to respond in the moment.
Next week: Light Search and Rescue! My only experience with this is playing “marco polo” in the pool. Yes I have a lot to learn!
The focus of our class this week is first aid. Now our great trainers, Steven and Angela are not going to make medics out of us in 3 weeks…but we can learn the most basic of skills to keep many people alive until the first responders can get to us.
We learn there are 3 basic things we can do:
- Keep the airway open.
- Stop bleeding.
- Treat for shock.
These are our priorities. We can save a lot of lives with just these skills. If someone has a possible neck injury we are taught to not move them unless leaving them where they are will cause their death (such as in a fire). We learned a couple ways to keep the airway open. Bleeding can be managed with pressure We practice wrapping bandages on arms and legs, along with splints…lots of splints. We practice on each other and quickly learn this isn’t as simple as we thought!! More splinting next week!
I suspect in an emergency, one might wrap an injury too tightly in all the excitement! Angela teaches us how to check for a pulse regularly in the extremity we have wrapped to ensure we aren’t cutting off blood flow. We also check fingers by pushing on the fingernail and watching for blood to return within 2 secs. That’s easy to remember.
I always thought “triage” was just emergency medical practices but it actually means to assess the situation to determine who has the most immediate needs. More on that next week.
For every patient we are taught to do a body assessment, head to toe, to determine how severe the patient status is, and if there are hidden injuries. While there isn’t much we can do about a lot of injuries, it is critical that we take notes and prepare a list for the emergency responders.
Oh there is so much more to learn and I leave feeling like more first aid training would be a good thing. I can also see that adding more first aid supplies to my CERT backpack is necessary…and a good thing to carry in my car.
Snacks this week were very good too!!
Thirty-two people showed up at 6pm for the sold-out CERT training to meet our leaders, Steven Hancock and Angela Del Ponte of the San Rafael Office of Emergency Services. It’s amazing how much energy these two have after a full day of work! We are given name tags and a binder full of information for the course. The class is composed of people of all ages, including a group of students from Dominican University . . . and their teacher, Matt Davis. Matt teaches a class in disaster psychology—I hope to do a story on him for our site. Did I mention there are snacks?
We are given an overview of the class and learn that this first session is the only one where we will be inside for the 3 hours. After tonight, it’s more “hands on”. We will learn to put out a fire, practice basic first aid, learn to work in teams, how to assess a situation, delegate responsibilities, and more. They have promised the class will be fun!
After some lecture time, we are broken up into 4 teams and given an assignment. I don’t want to ruin it for you when you take the course, but we had 8 minutes to do a project, AS A TEAM. It was an interesting experience to see how 8 people could work together under the duress of a time limit, make decisions, assign responsibilities, etc. This is a simulation designed to teach us how it would be in an emergency. Great exercise and debrief.
It’s All About Organization
Steven and Angela talk to us about organizations and structure and I can see that this class isn’t just about learning to put out fires, but the critical component is understanding how a team works. In a disaster, we have to determine where to put our resources and WHAT our resources are. I learn the first response is to make sure that my home and family are secure. Smell for gas, look for smoke, assess the safety, gather my CERT backpack and go into the neighborhood to help. I don’t know much beyond that but I am looking forward to learning!!
So I can already see that knowing where the elderly or disabled are in my neighborhood is critical. Did the disaster happen during the day so maybe there are kids at home with parents stuck at work? Or is it the nighttime and flashlights are critical as the darkness makes everything more difficult? Do I have a good first aid kit? Where have I stored my earthquake supplies? Are they all in the collapsed garage? Oh, and I’ve been talking about taking that CPR class for 20 years—need to do that. All of this rolls through my mind as Steven discusses creating a team organization on-the-spot, and delegating duties quickly based on who has what skills. I am thinking we need more CERT graduates in the neighborhood.
We finish the class with instructions to bring gloves for next week, make some bandages for our CERT backpack kits, and do our homework. Then we each pick up a new green backpack, with reflective vest, hardhat, and goggles. This is all included in the $30 class fee. This is a deal!!
I go home with many more questions and concerns about a disaster than before. There is a lot to learn and think about. I look forward to Tuesday.
You Can Make a Difference! Sign Up for the Next Class
The last two classes have SOLD OUT so if you want to learn more, the next class starts May 14 in Nicasio. Register today. Call 485-3409. Or go online www.marincountycert.org to see the full 2011 class schedule.