We Need Trained Volunteers

Are you ready to take it one step beyond getting to know your neighbors and mapping your neighborhood? (If you don’t know what this is, see Map Your Neighborhood – the Most Important Emergency Preparedness Activity!)People want to volunteer when things go wrong, but where do you go and what do you do? Your community definitely needs volunteers, but experience shows that volunteers are more effective with advance training. They learn and practice basic skills, they understand how disaster response works and their role on the team, and they learn to stay safe while volunteering. When an emergency occurs, they are ready to use their skills spontaneously in their neighborhoods and workplaces, and as part of an organized community response.  In contrast, SUVs (spontaneous untrained volunteers) can strain the system more than they give – they need on-the-job training (taking trainer time away from actual response), they require support such as food, water, and shelter, they may not follow instructions or work well together, and they are a greater safety risk.

CERT – Great Disaster Volunteer Training!

Sample CERT backpack gear.

Sample CERT backpack gear.

What we really need are trained volunteers – as many as possible! If you are ready to help, a good place to turn might be the Community Emergency Response Team Program. There are literally hundreds of CERT teams in the United States. CERT teams have played roles in many disasters, including  Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it is rare that they are not involved in disaster response, at least in the United States. In exchange for a time commitment of 21 hours (an evening a week for seven weeks, an entire weekend, or several all day sessions), first responders will teach you to be a volunteer disaster worker, and to do it safely.

So what do you learn in 21 hours? Here is a typical plan, although the actual schedule and topics can vary somewhat from community to community. If you want to pre-study for the course, you can find all the materials for download on the CERT Training Materials web page. Although the materials are available, this is not a class to complete on your own – you’ll learn more from group discussion and hands-on activities.

Session 1: Disaster Preparedness. After all, that’s what this is all about! You’ll learn about community response and responsibilities, the most likely hazards for your area, ways to prepare yourself and your family, and how CERT fits into it all. If you have been reading my blog, you will immediately move to the head of the class!

Session 2: Disaster Fire Suppression. How do you size up a fire and decide if you should attempt to extinguish it? How do you check utilities for risk and identify hazardous materials? How do you actually put out a fire? It can be hard to figure out how to use a fire extinguisher in the “heat” of the moment, so I think the best part of this session is hands-on practice putting out a small fire!

No - this isn't real (want to keep a family rating!). It is an example of moulage, or fake mock injuries used for emergency training.

No – this isn’t real (I want to keep a family rating!). It is an example of moulage, or fake mock injuries used for emergency training. Photo by kapDave.

Sessions 3 and 4: Disaster Medical Operations (my favorite, of course) In Session 3, you learn basic life-saving skills such as opening airways, stopping bleeding, and controlling shock (CPR is usually not an appropriate intervention in a disaster). You also learn the basic concept of triage – doing the greatest good for the greatest number of victims – and how to quickly categorize patients by the seriousness of their injuries. In Session 4, you learn to set up a medical treatment area and perform first aid for common injuries.

Session 5: Light Search and Rescue. Most people have no clue about this. How do you size up a damaged building, and develop a plan of action? How do you conduct a thorough search so that victims are not missed? How do you move victims? And how do you do all this safely? In the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, volunteers rescued 800 people, but some reports suggest 100 were killed while trying to save others. Injuring yourself while rescuing others just adds another victim for the responders to deal with.

Session 6: Team Organization and Disaster Psychology. Disaster response requires organization to make sure disaster workers are safe, rescue efforts are effective, and communication is adequate. Imagine 50 volunteers each choosing on their own what to do without coordination or communication. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize this could do more harm than good. CERT team members provide leadership and organization for other team members, as well as for untrained volunteers until the pros show up. You also learn in this session how to help with stress and emotional responses of both victims and disaster responders.

Session 7: Disaster Simulation. You get to practice it all! Set up your command center, search your neighbor’s house, triage, carry your victims, do first aid – and hope you never have to do this in real life!

Finding CERT Training

After this great description, I know you can’t wait to start. CERT training programs are free and sponsored by city and county emergency management as well as fire and police departments around the country (we have 7 scheduled in the next 5 months in Salem alone). The national CERT organization lets you Search CERT Programs By ZIP Code to get information on training programs near you.

United States CERT Teams, as of 12-2012

United States CERT Teams, as of 12-2012

The benefits of being trained to help in a disaster are immense. Volunteering has been shown to help personal mental health, in addition to the obvious benefit for your neighbors and community (disaster search and rescue often depends on private citizens when official response is overwhelmed or delayed), Consider training with a neighborhood or workplace group – that way you get to play together, and work efficiently as a team if there is a real disaster. Over 100 people in our neighborhood did CERT training together, as well as Map Your Neighborhood. I can tell you it makes me rest easier at night. So consider trying my insomnia cure and sign up for CERT training today. We will all be glad you did!

Stay Safe,

Sheila Sund, M.D.

P.S. Feel free to share CERT stories in the comments to this post!

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Comments
  1. […] now to go further with your planning, check out some earlier posts on Map Your Neighborhood, CERT training, and Earthquake Proofing Your Home. Let me know whether you liked this exercise and whether […]

  2. […] healthcare volunteer registry (credentialing before the need arises).  Read my blog posts on CERT training and the Medical Reserve Corps for other opportunities to volunteer. Extra staff needed for […]

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