Jen Oh

CERT makes a difference

I’m proud to say I became an official CERT member. CERT, Community Emergency Response Team is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program. It focuses on teaching citizens on how to handle disaster/emergency situations and how they can help themselves, their families, and their communities in case of a disaster.

The reason I joined CERT was a selfish one. I have 2 kids and most of my family (mom, dad, brother, grandmothers, aunts/uncles, niece/nephews) all live within 20 minutes of me. If an emergency occurred, I wanted to be in a position to be able to make sure we all got any help we needed. But, what I learned goes so beyond that.

For those that are just starting to (or haven’t even started to) think about emergency preparedness, check out my post Are You Prepared? I provide valuable information on how to get started and the things you will want to know and do in case of an emergency.

CERT is hard core! For the last 5 weeks, I spent every Friday evening from 6:30-9:30pm learning everything from triage, assisting in medical treatment, fire safety, search and rescue, and terrorism. The classes culminated in a 4 hr exercise/final where I had to put out a fire, search a building, assess injuries, and help lift a dumpster off a body. I had to finish 24 hrs of intense lectures and training in order to become certified.

Each class started with some basic reminders. -Your own safety is #1; Always work with a buddy; only do what you have been trained to do; wear safety equipment (hard hat, goggles, mask-N95, gloves, boots); think and size up the scene before acting; hazardous materials mean stay uphill; upwind, and upstream; provide the greatest good for the greatest number; use your creativity to: adapt, improvise, and overcome.

What I learned in each class always gave me so much to think about. How a single person could help a whole neighborhood, save lives, or be of valuable assistance during an emergency is astounding. I must admit, I never thought about how the police, fire dept, or medical services reacted during an emergency. How difficult it is for them to help everyone and how inundated they get with requests. How they have to sort through all the requests to decide which ones have priority, etc. By becoming a CERT member, I now have the ability to assess an emergency for myself, my family, and even my community.

The final 4 hrs was back to back simulations of different situations and studies where we had to apply what we learned.


Many fires are preventable: Avoid the “electrical octopus” – don’t plug in tons of items into one place. Don’t run cords under carpets. Replace broken or frayed cords. Maintain appliances.

Check your smoke detectors twice a year (a good time is when daylight saving occurs). One very important thing I learned is that when a smoke detector goes off, you have approx. 2 minutes to leave! That’s it. By 10 minutes, your house could be completely in flames and your exits might be blocked. Do not try to collect valuables or even put on clothes – just get out! This is another reason a go kit is so vital!

Fires spread quickly. Do NOT fight a fire if it’s bigger than a wastebasket!

Know the types of fire: A- ordinary combustible, B- Flammable and combustible liquids, C- Energized electrical equipment, D- Combustible metals

If you have a fire extinguisher, make sure you are using the right type of extinguisher for type of fire. Each fire extinguisher will have a recommended use on the label. Ex. Recommended 3A 40B:C (10lb)
the 3A stands for equivalent of gallons of “water” (3A is 3 gallons), the 40B:C stands for square feet and type of fire (40 square ft, flammable liquids and electric). If you are getting a fire extinguisher for your home, it might be best to get an ABC (fights all 3 common types of household fires) extinguisher. Though, for our kitchen, we have a kitchen fire extinguisher. Most fire extinguishers, when used, emit a chemical that is NOT food safe. This kitchen fire extinguisher uses a sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) powder that is non toxic and easy to clean up.

When fighting a fire, it’s important to try to have a buddy. One person will have all eyes on the fire, the buddy will be checking everything else – reviewing the scene (above, around, below). When using a fire extinguisher – remember PASS. Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. It’s important to pull the pin out (otherwise, the fire extinguisher won’t work), to aim at the fire first, to squeeze the trigger, and to use a sweeping motion to put the fire out. Fire extinguishers usually only last 15 seconds. If you can’t put the fire out in that time period, you need to evacuate immediately.

Until CERT, I never thought about what triage really was and what it meant. Sure, I’ve watched enough hospital drama shows to know what the word meant, but what does it mean in action.

Triage, in simple terms, is the quickest medical assessment used for a large group of people. As an example in our class, we simulated a bus accident. We had to assess all the passengers as quickly as we could. What I learned is that it is common to just jump right in and start checking on people. However, it’s vital to review the entire situation. Is the bus safe? What happens if I jump right in and the bus catches on fire, becomes unstable, etc? I could endanger my life or worse. I could make the situation even more dangerous for everyone. If triage is possible, you always want to work with a buddy or 2. Try to get anyone who can leave the situation on their own to do so. You may ask 1 or 2 of the least injured to stay with you (as your buddies) to help you while checking on other victims. Then you start at point A (the closest point to you) and you work your way to point B – do not deviate. You always start where you are. This is the most efficient method. There will be people screaming, people begging you to rush to them, but you can’t – otherwise, you may miss someone or get off track. By starting at point A and going to every person, you have a better chance of helping everyone. You also don’t actually medically treat anyone, unless you can do it within a few seconds (tilt someone’s head so they can breath, put pressure on an open wound, etc). You are simply there to assess and record the situation. If necessary, your buddy may be able to stay with a person to help apply pressure on a wound, keep someone’s head tilted, etc. Real medical assistance will be on it’s way. In triage, you are only there to ensure that everyone is prioritized so that those that need the most medical attention are seen first. You are also finding out how many people are injured and the severity of injuries, so that sufficient help can be requested. There is a color/lettering system used in triage to help code medical need. Medical need is categorized by: dead (black/V), immediate (red/I), delayed (yellow/D), and minor (green/M).

Physical Assessment
After triage, victims will be moved by medical professionals to areas based on medical need. Often times, in large disasters, tarps at the site are used for medical evaluation. Usually, these tarps are the color of each category. There will be times that CERT members will have to assist with physical assessment. We are not there to medically treat persons, but to find out specifics for medical professionals so they can treat persons quicker. We were taught to assess a person from head to toe, check for injuries and to provide information so that they can get treated efficiently and prioritized by need.

Search and Rescue
During disasters, there will be times when CERT members will perform search and rescue. The best example would be during an earthquake. Police and Fire Departments will have their hands full handling immediate emergencies and will not be able to check neighborhoods for damage. CERT teams may be requested to ensure neighborhoods are safe and if there are persons injured that can’t seek help or may be trapped inside homes/buildings.

The first thing we learned is that you never perform search and rescue without a buddy or group. You will always need one person who stands guard (they can see if there is anything that may happen to a building, they can request help if the person searching also gets trapped, etc). You must always assess the situation before entering. What day or time of day is it? What type of building? Where is the building? All of these play a factor in what you may find inside a building. A school on Sunday would be less likely to have persons inside, but a church might have injured persons. You would check the church first. Buildings are assessed as heavy, moderate, or light damage. If a building has heavy damage – CERT members do not enter. We are not trained to handle heavily damaged buildings and could get injured or cause further damage.

After assessing damage, search and rescue is very methodical. You record when you enter a building and how many persons entered. You start from where you are and work systematically thru a building. i.e. – go from right to left in a building, staying to the outer perimeter and working your way in. You inform the team member(s) who stays outside the building where you are at all times. You record and inform if you find anyone and their condition (using triage). If you find any hazards that are extreme (gas, chemical, fire, unstable building, etc) you leave immediately. If you are able to go through the entire building, when you exit – you record what time you left and the conditions inside. There is a code and system for recording this as well.

If you are in a disaster, you can also help search and rescue. If no one is hurt in your home, put a white flag outside somewhere visible – usually near the front door. A white flag can be a white t-shirt, pillow case, etc. Anything so that people will know you are safe. If someone is injured in your home and you can not leave them, put a red flag out. Rescuers will know to send assistance immediately to your home.

What is cribbing? It’s a method for being able to lift heavy objects. If something heavy fell during a disaster and pinned a person, cribbing would be the fastest and most effective way to try to lift an object so that a person may be extracted.

I had never heard of the term cribbing before and it was fascinating to see it in action. During our final exercises, we were required to lift a dumpster off a “person”. Typically, cribbing is 4×4 cut to approx. 24″. However, in an emergency – any wood will do. Worst case scenario – you can even use fencing, etc. However, in most neighborhoods, there will be loose lumber at several persons home.

We started by watching firemen show us proper technique. You need to look at what you are lifting to decide how it’s best to raise the object. It’s important to have 3 points of contact, in order for whatever you are lifting to have stability (otherwise, it may topple/collapse and hurt someone else). You use the 4×4 to create tiers that will be able to fit under whatever needs to be lifted. You use pieces of 4×4 cut in a diagonal (large shims) to wedge under. It’s important to take the time to make sure your cribbing is correct. You want to make sure that none of the wood used in cribbing is askew or not directly on top of the one before it. Take the time to line up all the wood pieces properly. It may seem like you should hurry, but you need to ensure that your cribbing will not fall and cause further injury.

The best tool for lifting to use is a 50″ crowbar. You create cribbing for the crowbar so that you can have enough leverage to lift a heavy object. You may have to continue building cribbing to have enough leverage to get a person out safely and have enough clearance to do so. In our practice, we raised the dumpster about 2 feet off the ground and had to rebuild our cribbing twice. You must have constant communication with your team. You may not be able to see the entire area or who is moving/lifting what. You need to be aware of the situation because it is easy for a heavy item to become unbalanced during the course of a lift. It was amazing how easy it was to lift the dumpster by using cribbing. Even I could easily do it!

Every class brought so much new information and practical application. There is quite a bit that I learned that I didn’t mention in this post and I must admit that I’m still processing all the information that I have learned. The amazing thing is that CERT classes are usually free! This is vital information that could save your life.

The extra cool thing is that I got issued a hard hat, vest and am certified as a CERT member. This means that I am registered as a Disaster Service Worker (DSW) and am provided the same privileges as such, as long as I work within the scope of what I have been requested/trained to do.

For me, being a CERT member gives me that added comfort of knowing I’m a little better prepared. I did this for myself and my family. CERT reminds us that your safety is #1 and your family’s is #2. If you or your family is not safe, you will not be able to help others (you will be distracted, unfocused, etc). Now, I have more tools to try to keep my family safe and this will help me sleep better at night.

My graduating CERT class (I’m in the bottom row, middle)

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