Four Unexpected Lessons from CERT Class 1


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Original Post Date: 3/1/13

Last week was a long, but educational week. I and about 20 others attended Butler County’s CERT training Class (more: FEMA.gov). The class is 20 hours — 6 to 10 pm on four evenings and 8 am to noon on Saturday. Combine that with a 35 minute drive each way, and with my normal wake-up time of 3:30 am,and it made for a long week. Not that I’m complaining…at least one other person in the class had to work third shift.

It’s not too hard to find online what the class teaches a person — and over the course of the upcoming weeks and months I’ll go into some detail on the things we learned that you can apply without having taken the class.

Today, though, I want to talk about the four things I learned that I didn’t expect.

#1: What you DON’T do can be as important as what you DO.

In a disaster, take away all your preconceptions about right & wrong, smart & not-so-smart, and whose job “it” is. Some examples:

  • CPR has no role in a disaster. It jars one’s soul to leave a person for dead when you know you have a chance of saving them with CPR. But sacrificing that one life is necessary because you may be able to preserve tens or hundreds of other lives.
  • Search and Rescue does not mean I’m going to be dangling half-over a foundation wall, trying to push debris off someone so I can pull them out with some superhuman effort. In my most likely role, arriving in a devastated community before the professional responders, I may never get to the search and rescue activity. But if I do, I have to weigh my own safety in the equation before trying any rescue. I do no one any good by becoming another victim.

#2: What may look like inaction, isn’t.

The cliche says only fools rush in. Can’t get much simpler than that.

The most productive few minutes for a newly-arriving responder is the scene size-up. in EMS we were taught the “windshield survey.” For our chase crew, it will be something similar. Thirty, sixty or ninety seconds spent scanning the scene and getting a mental understanding of what you’re about to embark on; donning proper safety equipment; making a plan and communicating it — all those are things that will look like we’re “wasting time we could be helping people.” Rushing in gets more people hurt.

#3: Initial search includes only very limited treatment.

Putting this to practice will be very hard for me. It’s a natural response to try to fix what’s wrong when first encountering a patient. I can imagine what it’d be like for me to have a broken leg, trapped under a collapsed floor, and to have a rescuer come up to me, eyeball the situation, talk to me briefly, and then WALK OFF. But while my injuries have a profound impact on me at that moment, in the grand scheme of things in a disaster, they’re pretty minor.

During an initial search, a trained responder (professional, volunteer, or community-based) will treat only these things:

  • People who aren’t breathing. Treatment consists of attempting the head tilt chin lift maneuver. If they don’t start breathing, we try once more. If that doesn’t work, they are left for dead.
  • People with excessive bleeding. Only the most basic first aid for bleeding is attempted: direct pressure, elevating the wound if possible, supplemented by pressure dressings if needed, If you are unhurt or mildly hurt, a rescuer may ask you to maintain the pressure for them, so they  may move on to assess other victims.
  • People showing signs of shock. This refers to the physical manifestations of shock. While the emotional reactions to the major life disruption that’s just happened are important, in most cases they don’t play a significant role here.

#4: CERT volunteers, at least in Butler County, do a lot of non-disaster stuff.

How about:

  • parking cars
  • searching for a set of dentures in a road side ditch
  • event security

Yeah, we do that. And a whole lot more.

Even if you choose not to participate on your county’s CERT team, the training is very useful. You learn a plethora of things that can help you be more resistant to disasters that affect your family and life. It’s free, and you’ll get no pressure to join the team if that isn’t what you  want to do.


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