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Getting a jump on ‘the Big One’

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When “the Big One” — a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake — finally hits, as it inevitably must, scores of Ashlanders will have some idea what to do, thanks to their gory training Saturday, helping many moaning volunteers who are dressed up like broken and bleeding Halloween ghouls.

The three-hour disaster simulation behind the police station had “victims” — middle school students fulfilling their community service obligation — scattered about in darkened rooms, under benches, crammed in corners, while volunteers for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) performed rescue, treatment and transporting they learned in classes over the past two weeks.

CERT, created after the big 1997 New Year’s Day flood, has trained a whopping 785 volunteers, making them one of the most successful such programs in the nation, according to a CERT statement.

“This curriculum was developed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to provide lay citizens with the skill set to be able to help themselves, family and neighbors in earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or any disaster where there are more victims than first responders,” said Terri Eubanks of Ashland Fire & Rescue.

The live drill exposed four teams of 21 trainees to potentially upsetting and shocking injuries, with pretend bloody gouges, gushing arteries, fractured bones and dangling guts presented by victims who must be comforted and moved safely for triage, first aid in medical tents and transport to emergency rooms.

“This is our treatment area, which is accessible to hospital people,” said Ashland Middle School student Audrey Churchill, as she held in her fake guts. “We’re trying to simulate a situation where help may not be arriving.”

Splayed on the floor in a darkened room, AMS student Chairo O’Gorman squirted “blood” through a tube, sending it gushing out of a “gash” in her arm.

“I have leadership class and we need this for community service,” she said.

Ashland Fire & Rescue trains “all hazard volunteers, who have a broad scope of capabilities for fire suppression, medical operations, such as being able to stop bleeding or if someone isn’t breathing or are in medical shock, which means there’s not a lot you can do, as the body is starting to die,” says Eubanks.

The training includes strategies for Southern Oregon’s regular floods and wildfires, but the main focus is on the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake, she says, because that has a much greater destructive potential. CERT crews can also do non-emergency work, such as filling sandbags, she adds, and they help teach how to increase resiliency by getting everyone stocked with two weeks of food and water.

The cities of western Oregon are vulnerable to giant CSZ quakes every 400 to 600 years, with the last one rocking native populations in 1700, notes the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) at University of Washington. These are caused by the offshore Juan de Fuca plate as it creeps under North America.

“Great Subduction Zone earthquakes are the largest earthquakes in the world, and are the only source zones that can produce earthquakes greater than magnitude 8.5. The CSZ has produced magnitude 9.0 or greater earthquakes in the past, and undoubtedly will in the future,” says the PNSN website. “Geological evidence indicates that such great earthquakes have occurred at least seven times in the last 3,500 years.”

Studies say the much-dreaded “big one” could cause untold havoc to food supplies, highway and air transportation, water and power, bring down a high percentage of homes and buildings and injure and kill much of the population, threatening the survival of many more.

The ranks of CERT are growing “incredibly” because of word-of-mouth encouragement from members and because middle-and high-school kids “think it’s a lot of fun,” Eubanks said.

CERT Incident Commander Dana Rayburn, a volunteer, said, “We’re trying to make sure it all runs smoothly and we get the bugs out. This is a situation where emergency services are being overwhelmed so we’re putting volunteers through an exercise that’s dark, noisy and intense so they’re emotionally and mentally prepared and have the schooling to deal with it.”

More information is available on the CERT page at www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=541. During disasters, you can call 541-552-CERT or go to 1700 AM radio.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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CERT trainees simulate extracting a victim Saturday afternoon at the city of Ashland service center on North Mountain Drive. (Andy Atkinson / Daily Tidings)