10 November 2003

Drill tests rescuers’ response to tragedy civilians learn disaster relief

Drill tests rescuers’ response to tragedy
Civilians learn disaster relief


As incident commander at a disaster drill yesterday, Meg Barnhizer’s first mistake was to go inside the house that supposedly had been hit by a tornado.

One of 10 "victims" in the dust-choked house grabbed her ankle, shouting, "Don’t leave me!" When Mrs. Barnhizer got back outside, another drill participant had assumed command and, unbeknownst to each other, the two began issuing conflicting orders.

Even so, the 17 volunteers in the community emergency response team exercise at Owens Community College’s Fire Science and Law Enforcement Center managed to evacuate and stabilize eight "survivors" before help arrived.

"That would be a real-life situation that we might have to deal with," Mrs. Barnhizer said afterward, calling her CERT training extremely valuable.

But for it to have real benefit in a true emergency, others from Mrs. Barnhizer’s Sylvania neighborhood will have to take the class. One person alone, even with special training, could do little when faced with large-scale destruction.

"As more people take the CERT class, the idea would be to organize it like Block Watches," said Philomena Caratelli, a course student from Toledo.

Teaching civilians how to respond to a neighborhood disaster - be it a twister, flood, ice storm, or some other natural or man-made calamity - is the idea behind CERT, whose participants learn "light" search and rescue and firefighting skills, basic injury evaluation, and other response techniques geared toward bridging the gap between a disaster’s occurrence and rescue workers’ arrival.

Whether you organize your neighborhood or your company in the high rise building you work in the goal is the same. People need training to handle both the physical and psychological demands of incident response, especially those with designated commanders. We are amazed at the number of Mid-Atlantic businesses who still got caught unprepared by hurricane Isabel. In the next few years we can expect the tornado and hurricanes to disrupt our businesses just as the last one. Yet why haven't we trained and prepared? Even more of concern in the next year are the continued threats of loss from attacks by organized terrorists such as al Qaeda. One can only imagine events more sinister and devastating that will require our John Q. Citizens to help our First Responders more than ever. This time, let's be more prepared and show our ability to plan, train and recover from any threat from Mother Nature or OBL.

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