Putting their knowledge to test, the more than 30 members of University of Central Arkansas CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) participated in a simulated disaster exercise at one of the Conway fire stations on Thursday.

The class, which began June 7, is made up of faculty and staff from across the university.

UCA Police Department Emergency Management Coordinator Tyler Lachowsky, a former firefighter, has taught CERT classes since 2015. He said the training teaches fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster preparedness, utility control and disaster medical treatment and triage.

“When disaster strikes the UCA Community, will you be prepared?” a May 8 email sent to the campus by Lachowsky reads. “As faculty and staff on campus, students look to us to lead in a time of crisis. CERT Training will teach you skills to assist those nearest you when an emergency happens.”

Nelson Landers, UCA Environmental Health and Safety Officer, and Annette Gartman, a UCA Nursing Department instructor and member of Greenbrier CERT, have also been helping with the training and were at the simulation the other day.

Students were divided into teams. After the disaster struck, leaders and their teams made their way through the underground bunker, going room to room to assess the situation, helping ones they could, moving victims to triage and medical, applying their training, giving in-the-moment care.

When the group debriefed after, one of the biggest challenges all teams faced was letting go. During the disaster, a child was “killed” and after several tries, couldn’t be revived. Class members said it was the screaming mother that they had the most difficult time with, especially because they had to leave the boy after no success treating him.

“I think every group struggled with that,” Gartman told the Log Cabin Democrat. “If they don’t start breathing after two [tries] you’re supposed to move on. The reason that is, is because you’re trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number. If you focus on someone you can’t even get an airway open for, you’re going to tie your time up and therefore you’re missing out on victims you can possibly save.”

Another struggle the groups dealt with was the intensity of the moment and time constraints.

Someone mentioned how she happened to get confused and was spiraling but realized she had to just get herself together.

“You do,” Gartman agreed. “You have to get a methodical pattern and stick to your pattern because it’s so easy to [get all over the place]. You just have to use your skills and do the best you can.”

The LCD asked the class if they found it hard to step up and own that training, be confident in what they were doing. Nearly all trainees said yes.

“We learn enough that we hope to save somebody,” one said.

“You have to keep telling yourself, ‘but, I’ll do something, something is better than nothing,’” another said.

Another from the group said she felt ask though they had all been given just a touch of basic aid to help ... the tip of the iceberg.

“Not that we’re not insignificant because we can help but I just felt like with this little bit of knowledge, I could actually be helpful,” she said. “Not that I am the most helpful, but I could actually participate.”

It’s that mindset that Gartman said the group clued in on.

“I think we’ve done our job if we’ve given y’all enough confidence and enough knowledge to even show up to the scene and offer to be a help even on the outside,” she said. “If you have enough confidence and enough mindset that you can go and do something, then we’ve done our job equipping you to be a community emergency response, not professional.”

Gartman recalled her first CERT class. She told the group that she wasn’t even two weeks in when a neighbor posted on their community page, fearful of a gas leak. Immediately, Gartman was able to respond and help because of her training.

“I would not have known how to do that if I had not gone through CERT,” she said. “That’s just ... the little things like that is where I think you’ll find yourself using your skills.”

CERT History: 

After recognizing a citizen’s need for disaster preparedness, the Los Angeles Fire Department developed a basic training program more than 30 years ago, still beneficial and used widely today.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept was developed when the LAFD realized that many would likely be on their own in the initial stages of a catastrophic disaster and decided the survival and rescue training would help improve a person’s likelihood of making it through until first responders could arrive on scene.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made the program available to communities nationwide and now, anyone with a desire to become better prepared to help can join, including a recently group of faculty and staff at the University of Central Arkansas.