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Life Lines Articles - Disaster First Aid

What Can I Do?
Be A Part Of The Help Instead Of The Helpless

by Victoria Chames, EMT, E

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When a massive earthquake, terrorist destruction, hurricane, or some other large-scale disaster occurs where you are, you know from the Katrina tragedy that you're not going to get your own personal ambulance arriving six minutes after your 911 call, like you would on an ordinary day. Phone lines will be jammed, and even if you get through to 911, they can’t come because in a disaster, 911 dispatch and all other emergency personnel and services immediately go under the Incident Command Disaster Response system.

First the I.C.S. central command gathers information, and then decides who gets what, where, and when, based on the Big Picture: What’s going on in the whole disaster area and where help is needed most/first -- balanced against whatever limited help is available. You will not be the only one who needs help, and in the first hours and days, the amount of help will be much smaller than the amount of help needed.

It will probably be up to you and me wherever we are, in whatever circumstances we face, to manage as best we can on our own for at least the first 24 hours to 3 days or more, until professional help can be brought in. These critical first minutes and hours are the time when the most lives are either saved or lost.

We the public will have to grow up fast, and realize that This Is Real, and “The Government” is very busy and absolutely cannot take care of everything we need, no matter how badly we need it. Will we just sit and wait like helpless children, and possibly, agonizingly watch each other suffer or die?

We are not children (most people reading this article are adults). And we are not helpless, unless we choose to be. In most of the developed countries of the world, it’s not like Baghdad; there are many options available to us by which we can prepare and help ourselves, and learn how to protect our own safety and survival. Please don’t choose to be helpless in an emergency.

Emergency Rooms are already overrun on any average day. (Normally you should expect to wait from 2 to 6 hours for your turn to see a doctor.) In a disaster every ER will be jam-packed to the bursting point, and virtually unapproachable. If you or someone near you needs help in the first minutes or hours, that can’t wait while you fight your way through stopped traffic, crowds, and confusion. If they need help NOW, like Ibtissam’s coworker friend did, it’s going to be up to you or me to give it. Please don’t count on somebody “out there” to save you or your friends, family, or co-workers. Especially when there are simple but critical things you could easily do yourself in just moments, before it’s too late.

Even if not for others, get up and do something for yourself.

Stop putting it off. Make a commitment to empower yourself with the basic knowledge and skills to save lives and to help yourself and others. Learn how.  It’s not “a breeze” but it’s a lot easier than you think. It’s entirely within your power, and it’s entirely up to you to choose your role: helpless victim, or active survivor/helper.

“But what can I do?”

If you have ever asked yourself this question, here is your answer -- a whole list of answers. Pick one, and get up, and take one step toward it with an open mind. The rest will follow. When you make the commitment and begin, people and resources will come out of the woodwork to help you do it. The critical step is the first one; get up and step forward. There is something on this list that you absolutely can do, and there will never be a better time to do it than right now.

1. TAKE C.E.R.T. 

Sign up for and attend a local Public Safety Disaster Response Training Program, such as C.E.R.T. “Citizens’ Emergency Response Training.” Usually taught by your local Fire Department or Police/Sheriff’s Department, CERT programs usually consist of 6 to 8 evening classes plus 2 Saturdays. CERT programs are taught throughout the United States, and most of them are free. There are new CERT programs organizing all the time, and localities, neighborhoods, or private groups can start their own CERT program if one is not available in their location.

Who Else Is Doing This?

Millions of Americans all over the U.S. are taking CERT, NERT, DART, (all are similar to CERT) training programs. Oakland California’s program is called C.O.R.E. for “Citizens of Oakland Respond to Emergencies. This training program is based on the neighborhood model of disaster preparedness, interacting with the city’s Disaster Response Plan and Office of Emergency Services. It’s taught by firefighters and by citizen instructors. C.O.R.E. has now has grown to 3,208 trained volunteers, and is a model for many new programs in other states and countries now forming. Learn about the C.O.R.E. program

How Can I Do It Too?

Phone your Fire Department, Police Department, or Office of Emergency Services (in some states called “Office of Emergency Management") for local information. If there is not a C.E.R.T. program in your local area, you can START one.

2. Ask For Disaster Response Teams At Your Local High Schools and Community Colleges.

The people who most need to be trained to do what’s necessary in any emergency are the people who are already there when it happens. In schools, that's obvious -- the teachers, the administration, and the students. How many people are trained in Disaster First Aid and Triage at your child’s school?

Private schools are more likely to have a plan and training in place; whereas public schools are more restricted by state and local regulations as to what they may teach. However, student-created Action Teams can be sponsored as “extra-curricular activities” and school teachers and administrators are free to participate in training for disaster response, disaster first aid and triage, and disaster management if they choose to. If they do not choose to, Parent-Teacher associations can push for this level of protection for their children.

Who Else Is Doing This?

Athenian High School, Danville California. The “A-Team” is a student-created and staffed, faculty-sponsored Disaster Response Team which began in 2001. Subsequent students have continued to develop this program, which interfaces with the school’s Disaster Response Plan. This year’s group of students have changed the name of the team to SERIA: the “Student Emergency Response Initiative of Athenian.” The students are trained in CPR and Disaster First Aid, and they have obtained and stocked disaster-appropriate First Aid Supply kits for key areas of their school campus. For more about Athenian High School and Middle School: http://www.athenian.org 

Other Schools and School Districts training their faculty in Disaster First Aid and Disaster Response: 
College Preparatory High School, Oakland CA.

Mills College, Oakland CA. http://www.mills.edu/
Poway School District San Diego County CA 
Polk School Dist, Polk County GA. 

How Can I Do It Too?

Phone the schools in your area and ask for the names of their Principal, Dean of Instruction, and head of the school administration. Write hard-copy letters to them directly, and to your School Board. Go to the school’s website for names, addresses, and emails of other key people who might help. Follow up your hard-copy letters with emails.

Get signatures from your neighbors, school teachers, and members of your PTA. It won’t happen until you step up and ask. Moving a “government” agency is like moving a mountain. It may take time; stubbornness is a virtue. Remind yourself that in an earthquake, mountains and oceans can move in a split-second.

3. Start a Disaster Response Training Program Where You Work.

There will be company funding allocated for Employee Safety, mandated by your state law. If you have trouble getting funding, don’t wait for it. Start talking to your co-workers, and begin the process yourself. That way you will have solid ideas, plans, and recommendations. These will make it easier for your boss to propose the ideas and request the funding for things like adequate medical supplies on the premises, Disaster first aid and Disaster Triage training for an employee Disaster Response Team, even structural retrofitting for work areas. You may not get all you askfor, but you will get a lot more than if you don’t ask.

Who Else Is Doing This?

Many forward-looking companies and corporations have designed Disaster Response Teams and Disaster First Aid into their Security System, as well as their Employee Safety program.

Premera Blue Cross of Mountlake Terrace Washington is teaching Disaster First Aid to its 300+ employees as a component of their comprehensive Disaster Response Plan, operating through their Corporate Employee Safety program and Security System, using their existing volunteer (employee) First Aid and CPR instructors. See endorsements

How Can I Do It too?

Learn about the subject from some of the resources in this article, and think about what your workplace really needs (not a wish-list, but a focused essential-needs list). Talk to your co-workers, talk to your boss. If a large company, go straight to the CEO by letter. It benefits the company to keep you safe and able-bodied, and they know this. You don’t need to be a powerhouse speaker, just tell it like it is. This works wonders; try it and you’ll see.

4. Start a Neighborhood Disaster Response Team In Your Own Community.

An old idea that has empowered human beings to survive since the days we lived in caves, is new again. And it's the only answer to the real problems we will face in a massive emergency. No one, no individual family can make it on their own when there's a really big job to be done. Everyone needs help sometime in our lives, so everyone should be ready to give it as well. In a major disaster of any kind, we will need each other. Do you know your neighbors by name? Would they know to come looking for you if your house collapsed? Who will you turn to, when 911 can't come? Now is the time to come out of the private, cozy "cocoon" of modern life and connect with some people nearby, for the mutual safety of us all.

Who Else Is Doing This?

In California, Washington and Oregon, thousands of neighborhood groups are gearing up and getting ready for earthquakes, Tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, or whatever comes. On the East Coast, New York and Massachusetts cities and counties are teaching Disaster First Aid & Triage, Search and Rescue, and Neighborhood Group Organizing.

David Baum, individual, regular guy and community organizer is in the process of building a Disaster Response Team with his neighbors. Read about his C.E.R.T. experiences in a C.E.R.T. class at Seattle Fire Dept. in the Life Lines article "Search and Rescue"

How Can I Do It Too?

Start informally, on your own block, with notes in mailboxes. If there are any neighborhood social groups or action groups, send them a note and an invitation to join the project. If they have open meetings, ask to have your topic “Neighborhood Disaster Help Team” placed on their agenda for discussion at the next meeting, then GO. Talk to your neighbors and friends, and any businesses large or small that operate in your general area. CERT training can prepare you to do this, or better yet, organize a group first, and then take CERT classes together.

Send a written (not email) note to your City Council District Representative asking for his/her support and help in setting up an interconnecting community self-help network, one that will include your neighborhood and other already established groups in the area.

Ask local public service radio stations for free “spot-announcements” to draw interested citizens and their skills and abilities to the project. Many cities have funds available to help, and some have pre-packed First Aid Supply caches for trained and organized groups. Phone your city Office of Emergency Services to ask if they have these, and ask what your group has to do to qualify for one.

5. Learn Disaster First Aid.

Disaster First Aid-When 911 Can’t Come© is a unique, one-day (6-hour) course that's not taught by Red Cross or any other mega-organization. DFA contains only essentials of what you need for disaster-scale emergency situations, and nothing you don’t need. “Standard” First Aid will not help you much in a disaster. It tells you what to do for the moment, and then says “Go to the Emergency Room” or “Call 911.” Neither of those will be realistic options in a disaster. To find a class in Disaster First Aid in your area: see Who Teaches DFA? - Listings and links If none of these are open to you, or if there is no Public Safety C.E.R.T. agency or group teaching this Disaster First Aid course in your area ...

Ask For It.

Write a hard-copy letter to your City Manager and your City Council representative asking for citizen training in Disaster First Aid (Not "standard" first aid). Ask your neighbors to do it too, or make copies of your letter as a sample for them to follow or sign with their signature and send as is. Then follow up with letters and email reminders. There is Homeland Security funding for citizen training programs. Who is more entitled to this than your family and your school and your neighborhood?

6. Teach Disaster First Aid Yourself.

If you’re an EMT, Paramedic, LPN or RN, you should seriously consider teaching some Disaster Preparedness and Disaster First Aid classes in your community, even if you are not a professional teacher or instructor. A user-friendly “Instructor Kit” with a PowerPoint presentation CD for the original, official Disaster First Aid© is available from this website's order page. If you are a teacher or CPR / First Aid Instructor, you could also offer your classes to the public as a small business venture, and earn some income while doing something good.

Who Else Is Doing This?

Lots of CERT programs, schools, Businesses and corporations scattered across the US and Canada are teaching Disaster First Aid for their own community groups, but there is a growing need for individuals or agencies offering Disaster First Aid classes to the general public. Think about teaching Disaster First Aid in your area. The field is wide open, you can teach at your own schedule and location, or travel to businesses, clubs, resorts, even churches and private homes to teach. We have found that people are usually very grateful for his service, and usually make us cookies and sandwiches!

How Can I Do It Too?

Information is available on the DFA website: Information for Instructors and other pages. Get the Instructor Kit and and start by teaching your friends, neighbors or family for practice. It's easy and it's fun. If you have questions about materials, instructor's book discounts, or anything else, you can email us at disasterfirstaid@earthlink.net

7. Learn Amateur Radio Operations.

When major emergencies happen and fire and medical personnel leave the fire stations to respond to them, that’s when Ham radio operators go to the fire stations, police stations, and other designated communications points, where they perform critical emergency radio communications operations. If this sounds interesting to you, you could be one of them. Join a club and become a volunteer, and meet some interesting people at the same time. There are open-membership groups like ORCA, RACES, WTARS, and others around the world who have classes to help you prepare and get your Amateur Radio Operator (“Ham”) license.

Who Else Is Doing This?

Millions of men and women of all ages, from kids to gandparents, all over the world are "Hams." Besides volunteering for emergency radio communications, you can enjoy conversations with people in other countries, even the other side of the world. Here are some sources to get you started.

How Can I Do It Too?

ARRL (American Radio Relay League)  http://www.arrl.org/
RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service)  
Emergency Communications, California Office of Emergency Services  
ORCA (Oakland Radio Communications Association)  http://www.ww6or.com
WTARS (West Tennessee Amateur Radio Society)  
Try Googling for a club in your city!

You Don’t Have To Be A Hero.

Regular people, groups, and whole communities are doing something. You can too. Start small, start where you are. Spark the idea; more people will come forward when you do.

People need you. Everybody is a little bit afraid, and Just like Ibtissam, they don’t know what to do. One of our E.R. Docs said, “It’s common-sense things that would save lives, but most people don’t know them.”

If your fear is about maybe not doing the right thing, or not doing it exactly the right way -- Give yourself a little more credit. You know you will do the best you can, whether you’ve gotten any training or not. Getting a little training and knowledge does not obligate you in any way, it just gives you the option to do whatever you're able to do, better.

Knowing what to do doesn’t make the danger go away. But it does make you feel more at peace for knowing that whatever happens, you will know what to do, and you will know that you're doing it - maybe not perfectly - but as well as anybody could under the circumstances. That’s all any of us can do. Get yourself a little training, get a few "tools." It might make all the difference in the world for someone, and it might be someone you love.

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