Several Josef Korbel School students are taking the extra initiative to become better citizens by receiving hands-on training on disaster preparedness and response.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is designed to educate people on the hazards in their area and teach them skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. In the event that disaster strikes, the idea is that CERT members will be able to assist their fellow citizens when professional responders are not yet on the scene.
Students form several Josef Korbel School programs participated in the class that took place on three Saturdays for approximately seven hours a day. A graduation ceremony will take place in late March in which the students will experience a more hands-on exercise that allows them to apply the skills they learned in the classroom to a real-life setting. Many of the students felt the skills they learned in the CERT classes would not only benefit their careers, but also their communities.
"I think it will be a nice complement to my academic studies," first-year International Security student Molly Stoplman said. "I also like the idea of being a more helpful citizen in my community."
The CERT class was led by instructor David Cook of OMEGA, and independent response group made up of volunteers who act as a resource to any official law enforcement, fire or other incident command agency. Cook began teaching CERT in 2006. He said that one day someone he cares about might have to depend on the knowledge and capabilities of a CERT member, so he wants as many people in his community to take the classes as possible.
"It gives training to the average citizen on what to do and what not to do in a disaster," Cook said. "It empowers each of us to help ourselves, our family and our community when our first responders are overwhelmed."
Cook's first homework assignment was to have his students locate their utility shut-off valves and switches for hot water, electricity and gas. In the event of an emergency, it could be critical to shut these off. He added that it might be necessary to write down these locations along with any important phone numbers.
"I would guarantee when it hits the fan, when there's a fire in your building or a tornado coming down, you might forget," Cook said. "Write it down."
One of the key components of emergency preparedness is the disaster kit, or 72-hour kit. Cook said that everyone should have a kit prepared in case of disasters that can sustain them for three days. The kit should include at least three gallons of water per person, a flashlight, nonperishable food and various other items.
"The disaster kit is customized to your family," Cook said. That is, some people should include medications while others may have to include items for infants.
To be an effective CERT, it is necessary to understand the Incident Command System (ICS), which lays out the leadership order, among other things. Cook said for a CERT to be manageable, the team leader should have no more than seven members.
"ICS is not a democracy," Cook said. "You have somebody that's in charge. Someone needs to make the decision. That's the one thing that will kill every team--indecision. Indecision will stop you in your tracks every time.
An important motto in rescue operations is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people so sometimes CERTs have important decisions to make that could mean life of death.
"You might come to the decision that 'I can't help that person,'" Cook said. "You have to make that determination. Sometimes there are safety concerns. You can't help anybody if you're out there getting electrocuted."
Cook added that in emergency management, responders have to be adaptable and flexible. But the scene is frequently hectic and stressful.
"If you guys look like a duck-- calm on the surface and going crazy underneath-- that's OK," Cook said.
The students learned how to identify airway obstruction, excessive bleeding, and shock-- the common killers of victims of tragedies. The CERT training course also addressed the seven signs of terrorism, which are surveillance; elicitation; tests of security; acquiring supplies; suspicious persons out of place; trial runs and deploying assets.
Clearing victims from buildings and seeing the difference between how chemical based fire extinguishers operate compared to water based ones were also part of the training.
"It's a good skills enhancement for those interested in homeland security and homeland defense," first-year International Security student Ryan Hull said. "I also wanted to fire off a fire extinguisher."
Stay tuned for a follow-up article discussing the emergency simulation taking place in April.
--M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies