CERT Training: Learning to Help During Disaster

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Last Saturday, I stepped into a whole new world. I went to my first CERT training. CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. It’s a program designed to teach those regular folk like me who want to learn tips and techniques for handling crisis situations when the pros, like fire fighters and police, aren’t available and for providing helpful support to those pros when they have to handle a situation that goes on for a long time.

We are the group of regular citizens they’ll call on if they need extra help during a crisis or for extra support during large community events, like the Olympic trials that’ll be here in 2016. In the case of a full-blown crisis, such as an earthquake of the scale we’ll see out here sometime in the next hundred years that’s sure to knock out all utilities, decimate many of our buildings, and cause general mayhem, we’ll have the skills to hopefully help our families and neighbors survive.

We’re learning from people who spend their days working through hypothetical disaster situations and preparing for the worst. I’m not talking about private militias or crazy extremists, either. These folk do this for a living for our government. I can’t imagine living with the intense emotions disaster preparation brings out every day. Saturday was an emotionally draining day for me, and we didn’t even go that far into handling fires and disaster psychology, which were the two main topics of the day. It took me until Tuesday to feel like my usual self again. That’s after spending the whole day on Sunday resting, really resting. Even my far less sensitive man, who’s taking the class with me, was exhausted that night and pretty tired into the next day.

Why on earth would someone as sensitive as I am want to go through something so crazy exhausting and intense? I write about a world in which the structures of society have collapsed. Sure, in the time I’m writing about the immediate crisis is long passed, but it’s still a survivalist landscape. I figured it would be interesting to learn more about the structures and practices a real city like mine has in place to handle crisis. What might Zombie Hunter C have encountered when the virus tore through her world in terms of emergency response and government supported services?

Plus, if there was a disaster here, I’d want to be busy helping rather than on the sidelines. I have a hard time just sitting still as it is. With all the energy a crisis would call up, I know it’d be better for my health to have someway to express it that’s constructive. So, when Patrick suggested it, I said “Sign us up!”

I think part of why the first day felt so intense was because it was so deeply engaging. Truly, we didn’t dive deep into the topics. Most of what we talked about was kind of common sense, like don’t put water on a grease fire and cut the power to an electrical fire by turning off the breaker or pulling the fuse so long as you can safely get to the breaker or fuse box. What we did cover, though, hit some of the deeper fears we hold both individually and as a community. Talking about how to notify a family of the death of a loved one, for instance, was hard to do without all of us at one point or another imagining ourselves in the position of delivering or receiving that kind of information.

Despite the intensity of the day, we had some fun, too. I heard a few interesting stories, like one woman’s experience as a bank teller during an armed robbery and why so few people died during the Thurston Shooting, a crisis that hit our community long before my family had arrived. I got to practice putting out a fire with an extinguisher and spraying a fire hose. I also got to meet a woman who trains dogs to help with compassion fatigue during disaster, like the days following the Twin Towers on 9-11. She brought one of her trainees with her, too. He was a cute little furball who barked while she tried to tell her tale until one of the instructor support people shared some left over fries from lunch with him. Who wouldn’t settle right  down for some fries?

I’m looking forward to our next class with a little trepidation. We’ll be talking about first aid. I just hope it doesn’t get too gory. I can still see the images from those horrid car crash films they showed us in Driver’s Ed. near thirty years ago!

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