Anyone having read much of this blog will recognize I’ve become a champion of volunteering since I retired in the 2000’s and my joy in volunteering has paid many dividends across the years. From the satisfaction of working with elderly dementia victims to the heart-felt delight in fostering larger/older rescue canines I always get so much more out of volunteering than I put in. But volunteering has also served as a means to meet people and develop social networking with locals of a similar mindset. And it sure seems there’s always worthy causes out there seeking volunteers to help fulfill their goals.
So it is I find myself entering into yet another volunteering effort; one which has already introduced me to many new local folks and promises to be one of the most, if not the most, fulfilling of all my volunteering efforts to date. On March 17, 2019 ten local people, of which I was one, completed our CERT basic training and were awarded our graduation certificates. For those of you uncertain regarding the nature of CERT let me explain. CERT is an acronym for Community Emergency Response Team and is a FEMA created program by which teams of volunteers across the United States undergo varying levels of training and are prepared to function when activated as support to first responders in the event of man-made or natural disasters. It is important to recognize that while CERT members have varying levels of expertise in basic medical treatment, light search and rescue, preparedness, fire safety, disaster psychology and terrorism we are not EMTs or first responders unless our members were so trained before they joined the CERT effort. However, if requested by first responders we can act as support for these functions. In the event a CERT team is onsite first – a very real possibility in rural Alaska – we are capable of basic medical care (i.e. stopping severe bleeding, clearing/opening airways and recognizing/mitigating shock) and simple triage. We can also assist trapped victims and evaluate disaster situations.
But our real goal in such situations is to gather as much information as possible regarding the event and the ‘fallout’ so we can quickly and accurately share this information with first responders once they arrive on scene. However, CERT can do so much more for our communities. Our members have access to a myriad of training courses through which skills like crowd management, traffic direction, radio communication and similar can be developed. We all embrace the concept that the foundation of CERT is ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ and we will always try to ‘do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the least amount of time’. In order to reach levels of proficiency we have monthly meetings and schedule training sessions involving our team and sometimes in coordination with other CERT operations in the general area. Of interest to this immediate area; the CERT function should mesh very well with the increase in neighborhood watch programs.
In order to fulfill these responsibilities team members need some basic equipment such as ID vests, backpacks, hard hats, safety goggles, gloves, elemental medical supplies, flashlights and similar. While FEMA offers support to CERT via training opportunities they do not offer financial support. For the most part neither does the federal or state government. Therefore, most CERT operations must look to local businesses and community organizations to help defray the costs of equipping a CERT function. This means we need to be aware of potential grants and be able to submit requests for monies as well as insure the local economies and community functions are aware of our needs. As you can imagine there is nothing really low cost when purchasing basic medical supplies like triangle bandages, tourniquets, tweezers, scissors, hot/cold compresses, non-latex exam gloves, anti-bacterial wipes and similar. Nor are other required items such as hard hats, goggles, work gloves, flashlights, back packs and the like. Many of these supplies will, hopefully, never be used but in the event they are needed they could prove lifesaving.
In the end CERT can be seen as a kind of local community insurance; while it may cost a bit from time to time if and when it is needed it can be almost irreplaceable. It is important to remember CERT members are all volunteers who have given and continue to give of their time to train and be ready for what most of us would consider ‘the unthinkable’. We can form a community core of local people who stand ready to assist and support their fellow neighbors during difficult times. Living in the Talkeetna area has really brought home just how vulnerable we are and how much on our own we could become in the event of a major disaster. The magnitude 7.2 earthquake on November 30, 2018 helped me understand how valuable a CERT function could be as the only road between this area and the lower valley (Wasilla-Palmer and Anchorage) is the Parks Highway (AK 3) and it was closed for a time. It has also been closed in June of 2015 during the Sockeye wildfire in the Willow area. If a major earthquake or wildfire severed the Parks Highway at, say, Mile 96 Talkeetna and the surrounding areas would have no access to the lower valley and their support functions. In this case it would be just a handful of local firefighters and EMTs available to deal with the aftermath of such an event and if there is widespread damage and casualties they would be quickly overwhelmed. Under these circumstances a CERT presence could function as an ‘expertise/first responder’ multiplier and help the first responders assist so many more people in need. Although we hope we are never called upon to assist in a disaster situation we stand ready to assist our neighbors in their time of need and work closely with our wonderful first responders to ‘do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time’.