Preparing for the worst: CERT training can benefit everyone in case of disaster

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008

A massive earthquake strikes the Kenai Peninsula at approximately 10 a.m. Feb. 9. Geologists say the epicenter of the earthquake is approximately half a mile east of the Pacific Rim Institute of Safety Management (PRISM) in Kenai. The quake ignited a small fire, caused extensive damage inside the PRISM building and resulted in the deaths of four people.

With emergency workers busy elsewhere, members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) were deployed to put out the fire and search the building for victims. Despite the chaotic situation, CERT members successfully triaged 16 victims and got the injured stabilized for transportation to the hospital 90 minutes after the quake struck.

My classmates and I prepared and trained for approximately three weeks for this moment. Even though the two paragraphs above describe a fictitious earthquake, with only one road leading off the Kenai Peninsula, another Good Friday earthquake like the one in 1964 could cut the Kenai Peninsula off from the rest of the state for weeks, perhaps months. Emergency officials and rescue workers will almost certainly be overwhelmed and many residents may find they have to fend for themselves for a while.

This is why organizations like CERT are so important. Not only does CERT give its volunteers the tools they need to help as many victims as possible, it also gives them the tools they need to keep themselves and their families safe.

During those three weeks, my classmates and I learned what to look for when attempting to enter a building, how to maintain an open airway, stop excessive bleeding and treat for shock, and what tools to use to extricate a victim out from under heavy debris. My classmates learned the importance of triaging patients and what to say to a victim whose family member has just died. We also learned what essentials to have in an emergency kit, how much food and water each person needs each day to survive and how to turn off gas lines.

When their training is completed, CERT members should have sufficient knowledge to size-up emergency situations, particularly buildings, triage victims and patients, perform light search and rescue, perform first aid, and put small fires out. They should know what to put into an emergency kit and be able to share their knowledge with others. But most importantly, CERT members are able to maintain a calm exterior even though all hell is breaking loose around them.

Sam Satathite, a Kenai firefighter, taught the course and demonstrated not only his knowledge, but his physical prowess. When it came to light search and rescue techniques, Sam impressed us all by scooping up CERT volunteer Jack Ross and slinging him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Jack was going red in the face while Sam walked around the room, one arm hooked around Jack's leg, and went right on teaching.

We each were able to put what we learned into practice during the disaster drill. Because an earthquake is one of the of the most common large-scale events that could happen on the Kenai Peninsula, that's what we trained for. Cadets from the Civil Air Patrol and students from local schools donned contusions, concussions, bruises and scrapes, transformed the PRISM center into an aftermath scene and stationed themselves at various locations to be rescued. Some of the victims were hysterical, some wandered, trying the patience of the CERT volunteers who were trying to keep them in one spot.

We finished the drill at 11:30 a.m., approximately an hour and a half after we began. At the end of the drill, we accounted for 16 victims five were able to walk, six required immediate medical attention and five were dead.

The next CERT training session begins March 3 and extends three weeks until the disaster drill on March 22. Teens under 16 are welcome, but must be accompanied by an adult. CERT is important for people who work in schools, have kids, are senior citizens, live in apartment buildings and work. High school and college students should get active and form a Campus Emergency Response Team of their own. Even if it's another 50 years or so until the next big one strikes, at least we'll be ready.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at

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