Prompted in equal parts by the book Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, the fact that I now live in an earthquake-prone area (and knew nothing about earthquakes) and by a personal interest in “Survivalism“, I recently attended a training course to become a qualified NERT Volunteer. NERT, or Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, is a program offered by the San Francisco Fire Department which was started after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. As stated on the official NERT website;
The underlying premise is that a major disaster will overwhelm first responders leaving many citizens on their own for the first 72 hours or longer after the emergency. Our goal is to teach as many San Franciscans as possible that, with basic training, they can make a difference in the lives of their families and others when, not if, they are affected by a disaster large or small.
This is actually a pretty impressive program in my opinion, and is part of a bigger, national program called CERT. It contributes not only to individual, personal safety and education, but obviously helps build a more robust community that stands a better chance of surviving a disaster situation. The idea of distributing this sort of resilience also really appeals to me after reading books like John Robb’s Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization. So what did I learn?
- Basic disaster preparedness
- Utility control (safely shutting off gas/electricity at the mains, and when to do so)
- Small fire-fighting skills, including an opportunity to actually use a small extinguisher and put out a fire. We spent quite some time on fire which was fascinating and frightening at the same time. We watched a “controlled experiment” go from a small flame in an armchair to a fully-involved, completely obliterated room in around 2 minutes.
- Hazardous materials storage and handling
- Disaster medicine and triage — we practiced on “live” patients where we were required to assess their condition and assign them a treatment status in under 30 seconds
- Light search and rescue skills
- How to set up an Incident Command Station using the standardized “Incident Command System”. This included looking at the city-wide disaster plan and how NERT fits into that
- Disaster psychology and how people are likely to react in a mass-casualty/disaster situation
- Terrorism and likely urban attacks
Once you’re done, you get your identification card (pictured) a helmet, vest and gloves, and are ready to rock. The idea of this kit is that it gives you something to identify you as an “official” volunteer of some sort — it indicates that you’ve gone through some training and perhaps know roughly what you’re talking about. To be honest the training (we opted for a 2-day intensive, versus the once-a-week-for-six-weeks approach) was a bit rushed, and there was a lot to digest. I’m definitely hoping to get to some of the regular training drills that NERT holds to hone my skills and learn new things. I’m particularly interested in more ICS training and HAM radio operation.
As a Bay Area resident, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone else living in the area. It’s a pretty easy, completely free way to learn a bunch of useful skills that might help you, your family and even your neighborhood in a disaster. If anything, my only disappointment was in the lack of younger people at the course (other than a few who appeared to have been dragged by their parents). The very people who could be massively valuable: the fit, healthy, physically able folks; weren’t there. It’d be great to see more interest in this sort of thing from the 25 – 40 sort of age group.