Natural disasters of different stripes and severity are a way of life on the Kenai Peninsula and around the state.
Wild land fires, earthquakes and floods all pose risks at any time during the year. Over the past dozen years or so, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has graduated more than 600 people through a Community Emergency Response Training, or CERT, program. And there will be more opportunities for the training coming in January, says Kenai Peninsula Borough program manager Dan Nelson. The goal is to train neighbors to safely help neighbors.
“This is not what you’d normally think of as emergency response training. We’re not going to turn you into a firefighter. We’re not going to turn you into a police officer or anything like that. This is training specifically designed for community members. That first C in CERT is Community.”
The training does take some time; it’s about 30 hours over the course of two weeks. And they cover everything from basic disaster preparedness to basic medical operations to disaster psychology. Nelson says that day helps volunteers prepare for some of the high-stress conditions and harsh realities of dealing with the aftermath of a serious disaster in your own town.
“Anybody that’s ever been in a critical situation knows that an hour can seem like days. High level, life and death kinds of things. The disaster psychology is designed to give our responders the tools to deal with that. The other part of this is the things that CERT members may have to do in a large scale disaster is we’re going to have folks who are deceased. How do we deal with that and how do we deal with the grief of friends, family and others. The course also explains how to deal with (those situations).”
The training culminates in a disaster simulation. Nelson and his team will have come up with some scenario, a fire or an earthquake. And then the challenges pile up; maybe a bridge is out or a gas line breaks. The more, and the more realistic the problems, the better.
“You might see simulated damage to a building. You’re definitely going to see victims. They use makeup to simulate injuries. There might be places you can’t get into, there might be people trapped somewhere, you might have to do some extrication. You have to search that building, several times, to make sure you have all the folks out. So all those skills we teach come together with a few things thrown at them for fun. I will admit, there are a few little minefields in there, but it’s a teachable moment. Folks don’t forget those things once they encounter them.”
CERT courses are free of charge, though space is limited. You can sign up at the borough’s website. There will be one course in Nikiski January 8th to the 20th, then the show moves to Homer for another session January 22nd to February 3rd.