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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

CERT course teaches neighbors to take charge during emergencies

CERT students set up a triage system to care for the wounded.

Local residents bleeding heavily and screaming in pain were lying on the floor of the Moose Lodge in Bailey’s Crossroads Saturday morning following a severe tornado. One woman lost three fingers, another victim had a leg sheared off, while others suffered broken bones and head wounds. Their neighbors took care of their immediate needs while waiting for ambulances to arrive.

An "accident victim" lost some fingers.
Relax, this was just a practice exercise. It was the final day of an eight-week Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course, where local residents learned about basic first aid, search and rescue techniques, and command and control procedures for responding to a disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, earthquake, terrorism, or active shooter.

The CERT students’ first task was to search the grounds to find injured people and bring them inside the Moose Lodge. For victims unable to walk, they used pieces of cardboard, tarps, chairs or whatever they could find as makeshift stretchers.

They then had to assess the victims – done up with makeup mimicking realistic, bloody wounds – to determine if they had life-threatening injuries, such as trouble breathing, bleeding profusely, or in shock, said CERT instructor Gary Nisker, the volunteer coordinator of CERT training in Fairfax County who also serves as the point person for CERT in the 22003 zip code.

CERT members attend to a car crash victim.
Under the triage system they set up, victims were labeled with duct tape indicating the severity of their condition. People in the worst shape were laid out on red tarps, those with less serious injuries, such as broken bones, were placed on yellow tarps. People in good shape were put on green tarps, while the deceased were put out of the way on black tarps.

Team members carry the victim inside.
The 21 people in the CERT class were mostly from Annandale and Bailey’s Crossroads, said Nisker, a former Army pilot who retired from the military in 2014. Since then, he’s led about three dozen CERT classes – training 79 people – in the Annandale area.

This guy will live.
The CERT program is free. Class participants are given backpacks with emergency supplies, including a hardhat with a light and an M95 face mask. Fairfax County received used a grant from FEMA to pay for the equipment and develop the course, but the bulk of the program is carried out by volunteers.

People who complete a CERT course can organize or join a disaster team for their community. Teams establish a rally point for people to gather during an emergency and set up a medical area and logistics area. According to Nisker, about 450 people in Fairfax County are part of a disaster team or are interested in starting one.
The command center directs rescue operations.
Nisker, the leader of a CERT team in his community, Annandale Acres, has overseen efforts to organize a recovery effort when a storm knocked out trees about six months ago and helped neighbors dig out fire hydrants during the most recent blizzard. “It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

Beyond the basic CERT course, there are opportunities for additional training, in such specialties as animal and pet rescue, advanced first aid, tourniquets, CPR and AEDs (automatic external defibrillators), rescuing people with hearing impairments, and working with the Centers for Disease Control during an epidemic. A Spanish-language CERT class is being developed.

People with the most serious injuries are placed on a red tarp
CERT training is important, Nisker said, because when there’s a major disaster, “for the first 72 hours, you’re on your own,” as it could take that long for the fire department and police to show up. And when it comes to disasters, “it’s not if, but when.”

If you’re interested in taking a CERT course, contact Gary Nisker,

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