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Training for The Big One

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What if the “Big One” hits? What if bridges collapse, buildings topple and help is at least two weeks away? Would you be prepared?

Ashland’s Community Emergency Response Team finished spring training Saturday by simulating injuries and situations that might occur if a major earthquake occurred in the Cascadia Subjuction Zone.

CERT is a free program that takes residents through a course of six classes spread out over April and again in October.

Preparedness coordinator Terri Eubanks said emulating a large-scale earthquake — one that the Cascadia Subduction Zone is due for — is the ideal training scenario as it’s worst-case and unexpected.

“It’s something that really does happen without warning,” Eubanks said. “In an earthquake situation we anticipate that true responders will be inundated by other emergency situations.”

The intent is to train residents to assist responders during a large-scale disaster. If an earthquake strikes, they can perform triage. If the city is forced to evacuate due to wildfire, they can go door to door.

“They could help us with any kind of mass casualty situation,” Eubanks said. “We wouldn’t put them in any sort of personal danger.”

She said CERT volunteers wouldn’t respond to a terrorist or active shooter situation, for example.

Eubanks said in a mass-casualty situation, it would time for the National Guard and the Red Cross to respond.

“I can tell you they’re not coming to us first,” Eubanks said.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management website says that Oregon residents should be prepared to shelter in place for a minimum of two weeks to ease the strain on emergency responders.

To help with this, CERT volunteers are trained in:

Disaster preparedness

Two-way radio communications

Fire suppression safety and hazardous materials

Disaster medical operations

Urban search and rescue

CERT organization and incident command system

Disaster psychology

Terrorism awareness

Real-life disaster simulation

At the simulation, trainees are split into four groups and rotate through four stations.

At the first station, trainees receive a debriefing while pulling on gloves and turning on headlamps — an 8.5 magnitude earthquake has just hit and has caused light damage in the building they are about to enter, the scent of gas is in the air, and they are the first team on site.

The team notices a live electrical wire near the gas shutoff, and then they turn the gas off. One by one, they enter the dark building, leaving one person near the entrance to call for backup if necessary. Large wooden boards and other debris litter the floor, and screams and a large rattling sound echo throughout the darkness.

As the team inches across the floor, they find three injured and hysterical individuals. One has a large bone sticking out of her leg, and blood is gushing onto the floor. Another is wedged underneath a pile of debris, and a third is trying to find her books in one of the lockers, clearly distraught.

At the next station, the team must work quickly to triage patients.

One man has an arterial bleed, and he’s been instructed to push a hidden hand pump 10 times once the team has noticed him. Each time he pumps, he loses a significant amount of blood. The team doesn’t treat him in time, and he dies.

They move on to the next injured person.

“There’s got to be death in these scenarios because in a real 8.5 earthquake, there would definitely be death,” Eubanks said.

Some volunteers transport the injured to a medical tent where another team is working. A woman lies on a mat with her intestines spilled out around her.

Other volunteers go to the command station, put on radio vests and call in their reports.

Ashland Middle and High school students volunteer as victims. They’re given specific injuries, covered in makeup and fake blood, given props, placed within the simulation zone and instructed to scream in order to create a lifelike situation for trainees.

Eubanks said the students’ help is instrumental to the simulation because trainees must use their skills to search and rescue, and the kids screaming in the background give it an eerie feeling of reality.

“Working on a real person makes a big difference,” Eubanks said.

She said CERT volunteers who have completed the training coordinate the event and instruct the trainees.

Ashland resident Douglas Best was CERT trained in 2017 and has ham radio experience from his time in the National Guard. He said on top of monthly CERT meetings, those who can operate hand radios meet every Monday to practice. He said there’s also a retreat every June that allows CERT volunteers to refresh their training.

“I want to be useful,” Best said. “If something happens in Ashland, I want to be able to step in and help and know what I’m doing.”

Paul Collins has been a CERT volunteer since 2006 and is now a planner for the simulation trainings twice a year. He said it’s smart to know how to respond to emergencies, especially in Ashland, where wildfire is a potential threat to residents and the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the every year.

Southern Oregon University students in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program can take the certification course for university credits.

SOU senior Sierra Acord is a double major in OAL and psychology. She said she’s trained in wilderness first responder, but this course helped her hone those skills for an urban setting.

“We have so many fires here, and we’re about to have an earthquake,” Acord said. “It’s important for the community to do everything we can to prepare for disaster.”

Eubanks said an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone happens on an average interval of about every 250 years, and it’s now been more than 300 years since the last one.

“That widespread disaster is really going to leave people in shock,” Eubanks said. “People will be flooding into the inland cities as well.”

She said in this scenario it would benefit everyone to be prepared for an emergency and have some basic survival knowledge.

She said the first way residents can get prepared is to sign up for the citywide emergency notification system, NIXLE, by texting the message 97520 to recipient 888777.

Emergency messages sent by the city ping any phone signed up for the program. Residents can opt in to other citywide messages as well.

To learn more about future CERT trainings visit bit.ly/2GstYI9.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings CERT trainees learn basic medical attention to injuries during an earthquake situation.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings CERT trainees learn basic medical attention to injuries during an earthquake situation.