Rescue Team

The first skill from the Emergency list that I took care of was “disaster preparedness.” San Francisco does not have CERT, but it does have NERT, the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. I found out about it soon after I moved to San Francisco, and since the training is free, I signed up fast.

It was not as hardcore as Mr. Strauss described, but that could be because it was in San Francisco and not Los Angeles, and the focus was on earthquakes instead of terrorism. Also, NERT is under the SFFD, as opposed to some CERT programs being run by police forces.

The training was divided into six three-hour sessions held weekly:

Class 1 was “Emergency awareness, preparedness, and hazard mitigation.” We covered potential disasters; making emergency kits for home, car, and work; and recognizing unsafe situations that disasters can create. There was a lot of talk about the 1906 earthquake and video from the 1989 earthquake.

Remember the footage they kept showing of the fire in the Marina from the 1989 earthquake? It actually looks worse than it was – the fire only affected a single city block. A conflagration is a fire that affects four city blocks, and it is estimated that when the next 7.5 or greater earthquake hits us, it will cause ten conflagrations! They will need more firetrucks than there are in all of Northern California to put all those fires out.

Class 2 was “Basic disaster skills, fire extinguishers, utility shut-offs.” We learned what to do when an earthquake hits, what not to do, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how to shut off utilities if needed.

If you are indoors, duck-and-cover and triangle-of-life are both decent rules, the emphasis was to take action as soon as possible because you have less than a second to respond before things could start coming down. If you are outdoors in a downtown area, head towards the base of buildings because glass from those high-rise windows fly outward into the street. If you are outdoors in a less developed area, head to a park, because that will likely become a staging area.

Class 3 was “Disaster medicine.” We barely covered first aid, the instructors told us they could not cover it in the amount of time we had, and that we should all go take first aid classes from the Red Cross to learn more. We focused on disaster triage – sorting out victims by the amount of help they need.

This broke down to a simple mnemonic device – “30-2-Can Do.” The 30 is for 30 breaths per minute. If the victim is taking frequent shallow breaths, that could be a sign of shock. The 2 is for two seconds for capillary refill. If you squeeze their fingertips and they do not go from white back to normal within two seconds, the victim is having circulatory problems. The “Can Do” is for asking the victim to respond or perform a simple task. You should ask something you both know the answer to, such as “What is the date?”, or to do something such as “Touch your nose.” The second example is better because you can ask them to mirror you, and do not have to worry about language barriers. If the victim fails any of these three tests, they need medical attention.

Class 4 was “Light search and rescue.” We covered the X-code search and rescue teams use as well as the proper procedures for conducting a search and hazards to watch for when doing search and rescue.

If you see urban search and rescue X markings near building entrances, there is some variance on how they are done, but here is how I learned it. When a team goes into a building, it makes one slash of the X and puts the team ID in the left quadrant and date/time of search in the upper quadrant. When they come out, they make the other slash to complete the X and put hazards and other notes in the right quadrant and the people found in the bottom quadrant. They usually also include where the people were taken to for family members who come looking.

Class 5 was “Team organization and management, terrorism & NERT.” We covered how to set up a staging area with ICS and interact with other agencies. We also covered terrorism and non-natural disasters.

If you ever suspect some sort of terrorist attack, you should travel upwind until the disaster area can be completely covered by your thumb when you hold it at arm’s length – the “rule of thumb.”

Class 6 was “Hands-on training, skills development and application.” For the final day of class, we had several practical tests, including putting out a diesel fire with a fire extinguisher, cribbing, mock triage, and mock search and rescue. At the end, we had a graduation ceremony where we all got a certificate, hard hat, reflective vest, work gloves, and NERT ID. Not quite a batsuit, but it will make things easier.

Besides the practical skills I picked up from these classes, I think the most important I learned was to change my disaster mentality. Most people think that they do not need to worry about a disaster because the government will take care of them, and that is simply not the case. You should expect to be completely on your own for three to seven days following a disaster, because most resources will be down and the remaining will be stretched thin.

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