Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CERT Community Emergency Response Teams

I'm putting aside two articles I've been working on (one on water that a friend suggested and another on the similarities between hunting and combat) to give you this report while the experience is still fresh in my mind.

I recently graduated from a Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) class. CERT classes train people in "… basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations."

At first I was rather skeptical of the program, however having completed the class I can see where the training could come in handy in large scale disaster situations like the Northridge earthquake, Hurricane Katrina or the Great Chicago Fire.

In spite their size, all of the above were WTSHTF (When The $#!t Hits The Fan) situations and not TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) situations because state and federal governments survived and, despite widespread destruction, help was (eventually) on the way.

The concept behind CERT is to create a cadre of trained civilians that can be of great aid to local first responders in the critical hours immediately after a disaster. Until outside professional help arrives it goes without saying that local fire, police & medical personnel (and equipment) will be woefully inadequate to deal with such situations. With terrorists trying to double down on 911* it would seem to be prudent for us to be prepared.

So what's CERT got to do with your personal survival plans? Just this:

CERT volunteers are taught triage and to "do the greatest good for the greatest number" which means if you or a loved one needs Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to survive you're not likely to receive it from a CERT volunteer – they are taught to move on and save others rather than invest even half an hour saving just one life. CERT volunteers aren't even taught CPR (although they are encouraged to take the Red Cross first aid classes which teach CPR among other things).

Another example of this policy, taken from the class, is their position on remaining with a victim who needs to be held in the Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift position (page 3.4).

As you may know there is a tendency for the tongue to fall back into the throat of unconscious people blocking the airway. The first aid for that is the "Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift" which we were taught. However, the instructors stated that if the victim reverted to the tongue in throat state we were not to stay with them holding them in position to breathe.

When I suggested placing something under the back of the victim's head/neck to hold them in the Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift position I was told doing so might irreparably damage the victim's spine if s/he had a broken neck. Since doing nothing guarantees death to the victim and the Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift method has already moved the spine I think I'd take the chance rather than walk off and let someone die.

But this gets back to CERT's primary goal which is to "do the most good for the most people" reminding me that to the government you & I are not a people, but statistics.
[End Addendum]

You may have noted the term "light search and rescue" in the second paragraph.

We were repeatedly told of the "100 rescuers who died trying to save others" in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. We were told over and over again that our safety came first. (Unspoken translation: becoming a casualty while trying to save someone else merely creates two casualties.) Although we were taught the correct (safe) way to raise heavy objects off of a victim we were not given any equipment to do it so we'll have to improvise in the event of a real disaster.

We were also taught light fire fighting i.e. with dry chemical fire extinguishers, but given that the "firing" time of these fire extinguishers is measured in seconds and they are few and far between I doubt that many CERT volunteers will be in the right place at the right time (before the fire gets too big) to squelch many incipient fires. But each CERT volunteer did get a chance to practice sweeping the extinguisher's chemical plume across the base of a small fire in a half barrel putting out the fire and building confidence.

But we were issued some equipment. A wrench for turning off natural gas lines going into houses and buildings (In my opinion one of the more useful things CERT volunteers will be able to do in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.), a role of duct tape, a pair of leather work gloves, a flashlight with batteries, a tiny first aid kit, a green hard hat, a good quality green backpack and a cheap green vest with reflective stripes. Oh, and since this is a government operation, about a pound of manuals, guides, lists and assorted forms.

So, what can you, as a survivor, expect from CERT volunteers in the minutes, hours and possibly even days after a major disaster like the Galveston hurricane?

CERT volunteers are told to first check the safety of their own homes and families before rallying. If not called up, via phone, CERT volunteers may "self activate" if phone lines are down. In either case teams (minimum two members) are formed and set out to assess the situation.

The way it is supposed to work is:

Search & Rescue teams are taught to do a "sizeup" before they enter a building and to enter only "safe" buildings. The criteria for "safe" buildings is ridiculous: a building with a few shingles blown off the roof is safe to go into, but a building with a wall or part of a wall gone is deemed too dangerous to enter despite the fact that the changes are there will be more casualties in the latter than the former.) Once walking wounded and those who can be safely moved are outside the S&R team moves on to the next building.

If someone is trapped inside a "Cribbing team" will go in and attempt to lever heavy objects (walls or whatever) off of the victim. A "crib" (in training) is alternating layers of four by fours put in repeating alternating tic-tac-toe patterns to form a stable support under the object until it is lifted high enough to pull the victim out from underneath. Then the victim is taken outside with the other evacuees to await further assistance as the cribbing team goes on to help the next victim.

Medical teams are trained to bandage wounds, improvise splints & transport the wounded to makeshift collection points where they will presumably be when the EMT's, military medics and ambulances arrive.

At our graduation exercise (final exam) I noted some problems. Namely in an emergency people don't want to wait for their team to be called into action. It was hard to keep people in inactive teams from wandering off to help teams that were actually doing something. The problem there is that if they wander off there's no team (or a reduced team) available when the Incident Commander calls on the team for a mission.

And yes CERT does have Incident Commanders, chains of command and paperwork; it is, after all a government entity. CERT's main purpose, it seems to me, is to start turning chaos into order. By collecting casualties, marking searched buildings and clearing ruble the CERT teams make it that much easier for the Red Cross, National Guard and LEO's (Law Enforcement Officers) to get right to work when they arrive on the scene.

But again, what's all that to you?

Since these are WTSHTF (When The $#!t Hits The Fan) situations and not TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) situations you'll probably be doing pretty much what the CERT people will be doing: checking your family for injuries, checking your home for damage then checking neighbors and the neighborhood for the same things.

Where appropriate you'd be shutting off gas lines leading into damaged buildings, fighting fires (garden hoses might be more useful than fire extinguishers), clearing ruble and setting up or staffing a neighborhood emergency center. The biggest difference between you and the CERT volunteers would be the green hard hat and vest.

Oh, and the CERT people might have a bit more pull with LEO's and other disaster officials when it comes to allocating resources.

Bottom Line

You don't want to be too dependent on CERT in the aftermath of something like the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake because, as outlined above, CERT volunteers aren't nearly as interested in saving you and yours as you are.

If your house collapses around you sure, CERT and the Red Cross shelter start looking pretty good, but odds are you'll be among that very large percentage (Did you notice that most people in the areas of the disasters cited did not suffer direct damage or injuries from the events?) of residents whose homes and health aren't affected.

That's a pretty good case for stocking up with 72 hours worth of food & water for your family like the civil defense people recommend.

But being a Prepper/survivor you'll probably want to at least double the recommended food & water and actually go down to Radio Shack and buy a battery/hand-crank powered radio instead of just planning to do it someday.

Also, if you need medicines (that's what they used to call "medications") It'd probably be a good idea to keep at least a weeks worth on hand.

In my opinion CERT would not be appropriate for events like the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak (CERT volunteers wandering around neighborhoods would likely do more to spread disease than alleviate problems.)


*A persuasive argument can be made that the terrorists have already won in that for the thousands of dollars it cost to train a few fanatics they've forced us to spend billions of dollars defending against box cutters, explosive shoes & guncotton underwear.

Despite the fact that virtually all of these attacks have been carried out by young Moslem males from certain countries (or who go to certain countries for training) Political Correctness dictates that we treat millions commercial civilian aircraft passengers like murder suspects in order to avoid being accused of profiling.

To Hell With That, Let's PROFILE!

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