CERT Training provides sense of preparedness
By Jim Shilander
San Clemente was hit by an earthquake just before 10 a.m. Saturday, trapping about two dozen high school students inside the city’s offices on Calle Negocio.
Obviously, that’s not actually what happened Saturday. But for about two-dozen San Clemente residents and employees, the scenario, while not real, served as the next closest thing—a capstone to the Community Emergency Response Team classes put on by the city.
The Community Emergency Response Team consists of 43 volunteers who have taken courses with the city and continue to receive training online to help in case of a natural disaster.
Jen Tucker, the city’s emergency planning officer, said more than 150 people will have gone through the program (including the new graduates), which is open to San Clemente residents and those who work in the city. Tucker expressed hope that the class would also lead to the city’s 50th certified CERT member.
Certified volunteers are sworn in by the city as service volunteer officers. All graduates of the training program are offered the opportunity to apply to be on the CERT team, Tucker said, but must pass a background check to join the team and be certified. Other graduates simply want to take the skills they’ve learned back to their families and businesses, she said.
Just before 10 a.m., Tucker provided the class with the scenario they’d be dealing with—just after they finished a final review of any and all procedures.
At that point, the class was divided into two teams, one that examined “damage” to the outside of the building (marked with pieces of paper with pictures of damage) along with putting out a controlled fire and working with a dummy trapped underneath debris. Inside, the other half of the group assisted the high school student volunteers, who were made to look like they had injuries to various parts of their bodies. After approximately 45 minutes, the teams switched tracks.
The students were confined to a single room, and made up to have different levels of injuries, from gruesome looking but minor—such as a piece of glass in their arm—to serious, like a closed head injury, that required the volunteers to talk to them and work to try and understand what was going on.
The student volunteers come from the Advancement though Individual Determination Program at San Clemente High School. Teacher Erin Dollar said the program, which targets students who may be the first in their family to go to college, encourages community service, and the CERT training was a popular project.
“It starts with the makeup and the drama of it,” Dollar said. “But then they realize what they can do. They like the interaction with the CERT volunteers. It gives them confidence in working with adults. And it shows them that community service can be fun and rewarding.”
Junior Ryan Waltman said this was the first time he’d done the CERT training as an activity, but his second year in the AVID program.
“It’s a lot of fun to play around and act like this to help them do their job,” Waltman said. “I like it a lot. Joining the program was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Sophomore Mildred Mendez had her face made to look like she’d sustained a major gash across it.
“It’s fun, I really enjoyed it,” Mendez said. “The last time I did it, it went by really fast. This time it seemed much more realistic.”
It was less enjoyable for Juliet Ekinaka, one of the new volunteers finishing the class who was responsible working on helping to “rescue” the students, assisting with triage and other work.
“It was a little overwhelming, but also a lot of fun,” Ekinaka said. “You start to understand the process you’ve been learning.”
Ekinaka said she signed up for the course based on advice from her mother, who was part of the CERT team in Costa Mesa.
“It sounded like a lot of fun,” she said, adding that she was also interested in a lot of the topics covered by the course, like disaster psychology, as well as for her own sake.
“I’d like to be prepared for my own personal knowledge and the safety of my family.”
Another class member, Larry Carroll, joined for similar reasons.
“This is something I wanted to do to volunteer for the community,” the 38-year resident said. What surprised him, Carroll said, was all that had to be accounted for.
“It’s the enormity of what needs to be done in the event of a disaster, and the amount you need to know,” Carroll said. “They laid it out pretty well, there’s just a lot to learn. It’s hard to remember it all.”
The class participants were assisted by current members of the CERT team, as well as members of the Orange County Fire Authority.
While Tucker was on the scene, some of the longtime members of the CERT team were taking charge of the exercise.
Bill Dunham, the operations manager for the team, was in charge of the exercise. He joined the CERT team two years ago as a way to volunteer. After taking the class, he’s kept up his training, using online resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I’ve always been a person who wanted to help other people out,” Dunham explained. “My thought was that we’re in an earthquake zone, and at some point, we’re going to have the ‘big one.’ Better to train now to help people when something happens.”
Don Fisher, the CERT leader, has lived in San Clemente for 22 years.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to volunteer to serve the community,” Fisher said. “Disaster preparation is an issue. I thought it’d be a good use of my time.”
Fisher said he was especially interested in being prepared for disaster due to the close proximity of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Fisher was very complimentary of the most recent crop of trainees. He was manning the fire station, operating the controlled propane fire that the CERT trainees were putting out with water.
“The classes have been great, it’s very instructive.”
Bill Ryan of the OCFA said having the help of citizens would be important in case of a natural disaster.
“This is huge,” Ryan said. “When ‘the big one’ happens, our resources are going to be few and far between. We only have two fire engines, one fire truck and one ambulance.”
Having trained citizen volunteers, he said, could provide significant assistance to help people as emergency responders made their way around to the hardest hit areas.
“We’re going to depend a lot on these folks,” Hart said.
Tucker said that feedback from trainees, CERT members and students had been positive about Saturday’s exercise.
“It went very well,” Tucker said. “The class participants did a fantastic job of dedicating what they’d learned. There was great feedback. The participants were worried about the drill going in and thought it was great for them.”
Tucker said there will be another CERT training course in May. For information, see www.san-clemente.org.