Category Archives: CERTips

CERTips – Etiquette Edition By Earle Hartling

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “an etiquette lesson from this guy?” Alright, I’ll admit I’m no Miss Manners, but I have been around this CERT thing long enough to have seen the potential for relationship problems between CERT members when participating in emergency response activities. I’ve seen conflicts happen during drills when we’re just practicing; if such incidents occur during the real thing, we could be in for a lot of trouble. The following are just a few of the, let’s say “behavioral missteps”, that I’ve noticed along with the problems they could cause.

Who’s the Boss?

If you remember back to the Incident Command System part of the CERT training class (you do remember, don’t you?), you’ll recall that every functional group of an emergency response effort has a leader. For example, from the Incident Commander we go down to the Operations Branch Director, then to the Search and Rescue Group Manager and finally to leader of Search Team No. 1. Each team, or group, or branch has just ONE boss who directs the efforts of his or her teammates in their area of responsibility. It’s not a democracy, it’s not a debate society; like it or not, it’s command and control. Otherwise, we have chaos.

Consider this scenario: Our Search Team No. 1 lead has been directed by the S&R Group Manager to search the top two floors of a building. Along the way, some injured victims are found. One team member insists that they abandon the building search and carry the victims out of the building, an argument ensues and nothing is accomplished. The team member that insisted on varying from their assigned task was WRONG! Even if that team had extracted the victims it had found, they would have failed in their mission. Why? Because now no one is searching the rest of the building and other victims that may be in there won’t be found. Every job is important and must be completed for the entire response “plan” to work. We’ve seen this during our final drills, and we’ve wound up with teams getting lost, victims left in the building, multiple teams trying to do the same job, etc. What the team leader says, goes.

This doesn’t mean that team members can’t provide input to the team leader. After all, two heads (or three or four) are better than one. Team leaders should respect this input and take it into consideration. For example, when a team member says, “I’m wiped out, I need to sit down for a minute and have a drink of water,” or “the ceiling in that room looks like it’s ready to collapse,” the team leader should not try to force the team to go ahead with its assigned task immediately, but inform his or her supervisor of the team’s change in status so that the response plan can be adjusted accordingly.


Did I sound like your mother? Yelling at a teammate to be heard over ambient noise or to warn them of danger is one thing, but to yell at them just because you’re ticked off is quite another. This kind of disrespectful exchange is counterproductive, and can affect the psychological well being of the victims we’re trying to help. I’m sure I wouldn’t feel too great about my chances of being rescued if the rescuers are screaming at each other and calling each other names. Excuse me, a little help here!

As bad as this type of behavior is during the stress of a real emergency, it is REALLY unacceptable when it occurs during a drill, when there shouldn’t be that kind of pressure. In this case, we’re not worried about what the victims are thinking about us, but what our neighbors and fellow Culver City citizens are thinking when they see us out in public acting like this. We want to earn the respect and trust of the general public because of our professionalism and competency, and we’d like to recruit new members to the organization because of our performance. Angrily shouting at other CERT members in the middle of the street does serious damage to our reputation and credibility with the community.

Why Charleton Heston Isn’t in CERT (aside from the fact that he’s been dead for years)

Because CERT is an unarmed volunteer group, that’s why. The sole purpose of CERT is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while maintaining the safety of the rescuers. And for this reason, the carrying of weapons (knives, handguns, spears, bazookas, etc.) is NEVER PERMITTED during a meeting, drill, picnic, class or any CERT function, even a real-life emergency. And I know what you’re asking and, yes, a Swiss Army knife is an appropriate tool in your call-out bag. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

CERT’s mission does not include crowd control, security, protection of property, law enforcement or anything else that might require the use of a weapon. During a CERT disaster activation, we will rely on the CCPD and not untrained civilians with guns for security and protection, if that becomes necessary (just like the Fire Department does). Yes, I know that most of the weapons I previously listed are legal to own and some people even have permits from the Police Department that allow them to carry handguns in public. However, our policy is clear: you may not be in possession of a weapon during a CERT function. Period. If you are found with a weapon at a one of our functions, you will be asked to leave immediately and, depending on the circumstances, you may also be suspended or expelled from the CERT program. This is for the safety of all CERT members.

CERTips – Preparation and Response By Earle Hartling


Fire extinguishers hold a charge for only a couple of years, at most. Since it costs about the same to buy a new one as it does to have the old one recharged, consider a new purchase and a donation of the old extinguisher to CERT. These are used in the training classes, are recharged by the Fire Department at no cost to CERT, and are a part of CERT’s emergency equipment during callouts.

If you have a cell phone, make sure it is always fully charged and keep it with you during emergencies, such as a CERT callout, evacuation, etc. While phone service, including cellular, could be interrupted during a disaster, there is always a chance that it might work. Also, if your cell phone is programmable, make sure your out-of-state emergency contact’s phone number is entered in. That way, you won’t have to rely on your memory or have to look for a phone book that may be inaccessible.

If you’ve redecorated your bathroom with new towels, don’t throw the old ones away or use them as dust rags. Wash them and keep them with your callout kit for use during medical ops as bandages, splints or cushions.

Gas and electric utilities may be interrupted for an extended period of time following a major disaster. Make sure you always have a full tank of propane or extra bags of charcoal briquettes for your barbecue, so that you can cook during the outage. But remember, never cook with these barbecues inside your house! The gases they release during combustion can be fatal in an enclosed space.

When batteries go bad, they can corrode the metal contacts inside your flashlight, rendering it permanently inoperative. Store the batteries for your flashlights, headlamps, portable radios, etc. separately in your callout bag, and only install them when necessary. Or, pull the last battery out of your flashlight and put it in backwards; it will keep your batteries from draining, even when not being used. Just remember to turn it around when you need to use it!

Don’t throw away those little packages of silica that come with many consumer products. While you still can’t eat them, you can recycle them in the pockets, bags and compartments of your callout bag. The silica absorbs moisture, and can help prevent water damage to your CERT equipment and supplies.


To prevent scratches on you safety goggle lenses that could impair your vision, store them in plastic Ziploc bags.

Dehydration is a major concern for rescue workers. Always keep bottles of water in your call-out bag, and be sure to keep them fresh and safe by rotating them out at least annually.

Don’t forget to keep your energy level up by having some quick nourishment handy. Power, protein or granola bars are great sources of energy, and they don’t take up a lot of space. Just make sure to try them out before stocking up, because some of them can taste downright nasty! Also, if you keep your call-out bag in the trunk of your car, you’re going to want to store your snacks someplace else where they won’t melt or cook (learned this the hard way).

As we saw on 9/11, certain disaster conditions can generate a lot of dust and debris. Consider putting a bottle of saline eye solution in your callout kit so that you can flush out your eyes, if necessary.

Keep handy small containers of sunblock (because who needs a sunburn on top of everything else going on) and hydrocortizone cream (for skin irritation caused by your backpack, boots, etc.). Some of the pain reliever of your choice (aspirin, ibuprofen) might not be a bad idea, either.

Never underestimate the importance of dry feet. An extra pair of socks may turn out to be a lifesaver!