If disaster struck your workplace, how well would you, and your employees cope until first responders arrive – which could take hours? Disaster preparation can seem overwhelming. For busy small businesses, committing time to prepare for a potential problem can take a back seat to dealing with more immediate concerns. Trying to help small-business owners and other citizens get a handle on how to prepare and what to do during and after an emergency is the goal of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fire departments and private companies throughout the nation are coordinating these programs that provide free or inexpensive training in lifesaving skills. “If you can be prepared, then when disaster hits you’re not going to be a victim, you’re going to be part of the solution,” says Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Jeff Vrooman, who coordinates CERT training for the department. “We touch as many people as we can because it’s going to pay off greatly.”
Small-business owner Jeff Edelstein (SOS Survival Products, Van Nuys, CA) credits disaster preparation classes with helping him organize a safe evacuation of his neighborhood during the 2005 Chatsworth fire. “You don’t want to practice when a disaster happens,” says Edelstein. “Make your mistakes in a drill and learn from those mistakes.”
CERT trainees learn how to assess their workplace (or home or school) for potential hazards during a disaster. They’re taught the basics of fire suppression, how to triage injured people by the severity of their condition and to handle life-threatening injuries. Courses might also include basic search-and-rescue operations, classes on disaster psychology and the organization of volunteer teams, together with guidelines for working with professional emergency response teams.
Training geared to small-business owners will be added next year by the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning and Preparedness, a group of local emergency planners from business and government.
The program is needed to keep businesses in operation so they can provide the products, services, and jobs that communities will need to recover after a major disaster.
For a national overview of CERT programs, go to www.citizencorps.gov/cert/