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Cascade’s emergency team ready to respond to ‘The Big One’
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
It’s the sort of thing that can keep a person up at night. What if there’s a disaster? An earthquake? A pandemic? A volcanic eruption? What if I’m at work at the time? Or the kids are at school? Are we prepared?
Alyson Lighthart, dean of the Math & Science Division at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, is one of those people who, instead of staying up worrying, is taking action to address the biggest gaps in preparedness at PCC and in the community.
Lighthart is a certified trainer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Emergency Response Team Program (FEMA-CERT). This June, 25 PCC employees and community members graduated from the eight-module, campus-specific CERT training course, which was capped by a realistic earthquake simulation in Cascade’s Public Services Education Building.
The Campus-CERT (C-CERT) is similar to the standard FEMA CERT curriculum, Lighthart said, but tailored to address the specific factors of an on-campus emergency – the need to see to the safety of large concentrations of potentially stranded people, to evacuate whole buildings, to set up an on-campus command center and medical operations center, and so on.
Lighthart realized that while PCC’s building monitors and floor monitors, those staff members charged with making sure that college buildings are completely vacated in the event of an emergency, were committed to their duties, they lacked the necessary training to respond to the wide range of situations that can arise during a disaster.
“There are so many unpredictable scenarios,” Lighthart said. “What if a floor monitor attempts to clear out a room and someone is lying injured on the floor?”
Prior to taking the C-CERT course, she said, they had no training to deal with that.
The FEMA CERT and C-CERT training courses are delivered in eight modules: Search and Triage; Rescue and Extrication; Medical First Aid; Fire Protection; Personal Preparedness (“The most important of all,” said Lighthart); Disaster Psychology; Terrorism; and Incident Command System (ICS) Structure.
The eight, three-hour modules were delivered during PCC’s spring term to a group of PCC employees, most hailing from the Cascade Campus, and community members. Trainings for PCC’s Rock Creek and Southeast campuses are planned for late summer (August/September) and for the 2016 winter term, respectively. Lighthart said the training is intended to be “layered on top” of the instruction already received by building and floor monitors, who are still expected to carry out their existing responsibilities.
Should disaster strike, Lighthart said, all CERT members nationwide have been instructed to first, before they do anything else, check in with their own loved ones to make sure they’re OK.
“You can’t keep your mind on the task at hand if you’re worried about your family,” she explained.
Next, the members of the C-CERT team join up at their staging area, a pre-determined headquarters site from which the emergency can be managed. According to procedure, Lighthart said, the first CERT-trained individual on the scene is the default incident commander until someone more senior shows up. From there, the incident commander directs the team through its protocols, adjusting as necessary to the exigencies of the emergency, whether it’s an earthquake – the most difficult disaster scenario likely to impact Portland – volcanic eruption, winter storm, terrorist attack, or some other disaster.
In the earthquake simulation held in June, Lighthart’s trainees dealt with a wide range of scenarios, from rooms strewn with rubble, to injured and “dead” victims – many who were festooned with appropriately gory makeup and props – to live exposed wiring, blocked exits and more. Trainees conducted triage, administered first aid, and carried out a thorough sweep of the building, all while staying in close contact with Command Central.
“They did a fantastic job,” said Lighthart.
In the event of an emergency, Lighthart said those who aren’t directly impacted, which is to say, dead, injured, or suddenly homeless, often, ironically, find themselves with very little to do. Lighthart said that one of the major duties of C-CERT trained personnel is to instruct ordinary people who want to help out how to do so safely and efficiently.
“Lots of people will be stranded and need something to do,” she explained. “One of our biggest jobs is to train spontaneous volunteers in what we know how to do. People have an inclination to help. This makes PCC itself an excellent resource to help ourselves and our near neighbors in Humboldt.”
Lighthart said that the formation of C-CERT at PCC was very much a community effort, and could not have happened without the contributions of Cascade ASPCC Emergency Management Association student group members Kristin Hardy, Spenser Mangold, and Ruth Davis (“They were awesome!” she said.). In addition to serving as teacher assistants for the course, they also managed to procure donations from several local businesses and government agencies.
Leatherman Tool Group Inc. contributed multi-tools and LED headlamps to the team, while Ace Hardware in Aloha donated 15-inch pry bars, United Fire provided work gloves, and Multnomah County pitched in CERT hard hats and vinyl rain jackets. Additional support came from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM), the PCC Office of Safety and Risk Management, and the PCC campus presidents and deans of instruction.
The next step, Lighthart said, is to inventory each PCC campus in order to identify resources which can be put into play in a disaster scenario. Cascade, for example, has medical supplies associated with several academic programs, skilled staff and students affiliated with the campus’ Emergency Services programs, and towels, mats, and buckets in the campus gym, all of which could be mustered in the event of an emergency. Other campuses have their own caches of resources that could be similarly tapped, she said.
To learn more about the upcoming C-CERT training programs, contact Lighthart at 971-722-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on neighborhood-based CERT training (called NET within Portland city limits), visit https://www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/31667.