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What I got from CERT class

Community Emergency Response Team training started tonight. Here’s what I got out of it:


Well, that a big, fat binder filled with such scintillating (and useful!) information as “At the end of this unit you should be able to identify the roles and responsibilities for community preparedness, to include government, community leaders from all sectors, and the public.”

I kept wondering why “the public” and “leaders” were always separate things in the CERT book when in every real-world disaster, “the public” becomes the leaders.

I kept wondering how I ever — ever! — got through high school. Or heck, not just high school, but 12 years of government schooling. Because it was just like this. Day after endless day. Year after endless year. Even though it’s been decades, tonight brought it all back as though I were in horrible Miss Williamson’s horrible eighth grade class again: the excruciating boredom, the incredulous indignation at being talked down to, the emphasis on being able to categorize and regurgitate pointless databits rather than do things, the acute discomfort of sitting in a rigid chair in rigid formation while someone drones on and on (and on!), repeating things I either already know or don’t want or need to know.

While the big, fat CERT book was saying, “The Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) … assigns responsibility to organizations and individuals for carrying out specific actions …” the earnest little AmeriCorps volunteer leading tonight’s session was repeating the exact same earthquake-and-tsunami PowerPoint presentation she gave last month for the general public.

Arrgh! I kept wondering how the other attendees could stand it, because each and every one of them had more experience than I. They were nurses, EMTs, sheriff’s deputies, ham radio operators. If I was bored, surely they must have felt like their brains were being vacuumed out of their skulls.

I take nothing away from you who’ve taken CERT or other types of emergency training. In fact, extra credit to you for being able to sit through nearly 30 hours of this sh*te to get your certification. I’m also sure that, buried deep in this course there’s bound to be some useful stuff like proper use of fire extinguishers and how to lift an injured person onto a stretcher. I would like to know that stuff. I would like to practice that stuff.

And I wouldn’t mind at all having a cool green hard hat like the ones in the world’s most boring video (“CERT in Action,” which had a lot in common with the film strips they showed in the fifth grade, the ones where the film kept breaking and that was the most interesting part).

But I will never earn my hard hat. Because after two hours I snuck out to take a break (feeling as though I should ask for a hall pass, lest I end up in detention), then came back into the classroom only long enough to gather my big, fat CERT book and my cup of tea (drinking in class — five demerits!) and creep off to the parking lot feeling as if I’d made a Major Escape.

If there’s a Hell, you can forget the flames and vats of boiling oil. It’ll be an eternity spent being talked at like this.

I’ll go through the big, fat book looking for usefulness and will try to learn or buff up on any of that. But no, I won’t be back for the next session.

Anyhow, among the only two or three tidbits of Actual Information I picked up tonight was the (unsurprising) fact that, in our area, there will be no actual CERT teams. Because our neighborhoods are so spread out that the handful of trained individuals will be expected to act on their own.

And so it will be.

But oh my goodness, if two hours of this bureaucratic, repetitious, down-talking nonsense was so unendurable, how did my young, hormonal self ever make it through high school without going postal?


  1. A.G.
    A.G. April 23, 2013 9:06 pm

    I like the small animal at the bottom. I THINK it is a dog, but it could be a mouse/rat due to the ears.

    Either way, it needs a green hard hat.

    Aren’t there decent instructions on fire extinguishers?

  2. Claire
    Claire April 23, 2013 9:09 pm

    A.G. — Definitely a dog, though perhaps one whose mother wasn’t too discriminating about who — or what — she partnered up with. Rat? A distinct possibility!

    Decent instructions on fire extinguishers? How would I know? That comes in Lesson #2 and we only did Lesson #1 tonight. JUMPING AHEAD IN THE BOOK? You can get in BIG trouble for that!

  3. Johnathan
    Johnathan April 23, 2013 10:29 pm

    “…had a lot in common with the film strips they showed in the fifth grade, the ones where the film kept breaking and that was the most interesting part”

    Damn if it wasn’t exactly like this!

  4. Gregabob
    Gregabob April 23, 2013 11:05 pm

    I could dig up some truck engine diagnostic VCR tapes that will function as wonderful sleep aids–combine these with the CERT videos and you’re sure to be off to a good night’s (or day’s) snooze…

  5. ENthePeasant
    ENthePeasant April 23, 2013 11:10 pm

    Kinda surprised your stuck it out that long… also a little surprised you didn’t learn from the public meeting… Perhaps if you review it you’ll sleep well?

  6. LarryA
    LarryA April 23, 2013 11:15 pm

    [Aren’t there decent instructions on fire extinguishers?]

    Yes. But they always leave off the step where you look at the little tag and find out it hasn’t been recharged in six years. Watching the stuff that’s supposed to put out the fire dribble out the nozzle is an Interesting Experience. Particularly when you’re in the interstitial area between the floors of a hospital, and there are just lots of copper lines carrying a variety of gasses hither and yon. And it’s fifty yards to the nearest access point.

    Luckily the oily rags a contractor had forgotten were in a bucket, and hadn’t quite burst into flame.

    [/rant] Sorry, I have this thing about fire extinguishers.

  7. GregT
    GregT April 23, 2013 11:32 pm

    Yeah, well, having gone through the first CERT class locally….you aren’t missing much. Out of maybe a thousand folks that have gone through them, locally, I’d say one percent – maybe – are still active.

    Every so often I come across them. Was just scanning some bands the other night and lo and behold, there was a local CERT net, so I checked in. About 4 hams do it locally, but that’s about it.

    Suits me fine, actually.

  8. Coyote Vs ACME
    Coyote Vs ACME April 23, 2013 11:43 pm

    Why does the whole thing sound like an extended “class film” from the 50’s about “duck and cover”?

    Anyway. I was a Vol. Fireman and EMT for 12 years. Took lots of classes, got certifications and learned a lot and it was all good stuff. None of it was “Duck and Cover” crap, but the CERT supposedly being for events on a bigger scale than say a residential multi story fire times 10, and when the class makes you feel like you do, I would have stuck with it and actually held up my hand and asked hard questions.

    Don’t let them bleat on here. If it smells like fish, smoke it out.

  9. Pat
    Pat April 24, 2013 12:34 am

    Twelve years of gov-schooling makes a dull mind, so if you’re inclined to be a “good citizen” you can tolerate those classes in adult years. But individualism renders the classes ‘null and void’ for the most part. Take heart, Claire, that you fit the second category; the mark of a “bad citizen” is that s/he does get bored.

    The classes are geared to cooperation with those in charge of the operation. The fact that the modus operandi is to “let George (limited/specified number of trained individuals in the community) do it” is consistant with the idea that the community be allowed to muddle through as best it can, then TPTB will come in and mop up in the same way they did at Sandy Hook and Katrina. Whether the locals are doing it right or not, TPTB will always find fault and find reasons to take over.

  10. water lily
    water lily April 24, 2013 4:48 am

    Yeah, I did Red Cross emergency first aid training a while ago, and the whole thing was basically a commercial to recruit volunteers. They did it over a course of 3 days. They could have done it in 3 hours. BORING.

    You could probably learn what you want by watching you tube videos. There’s a how-to video for just about everything these days.

    My local firearms range is offering a short EMT course. I’m saving my pennies for that one and hoping it isn’t dreck.

  11. ILTim
    ILTim April 24, 2013 5:06 am

    “They were nurses, EMTs, sheriff’s deputies, ham radio operators. If I was bored, surely they must have felt like their brains were being vacuumed out of their skulls.”

    No, no I don’t think that’s it exactly. I think that working as a deputy, or as part of a large organization like those which hire nurses, well the brain vacuuming happens sometime around filling out the application. You are required to be and act a drone to fit in, say the right things to grease ego’s and show subordination, or you can’t work in those places.

    I have NO IDEA how anyone does it.

  12. Dan
    Dan April 24, 2013 5:09 am

    I’m a CERT volunteer, and the classes did drag on. But we did get to do a lot of practice along the way.
    The main reason I joined was to know what the city’s plans were in case of a disaster, and to get to know the local authorities; kind of a “know thy enemy” sort of thing, though I don’t consider myself an outlaw yet. Extra benefits I received were free first aid/disaster rescue training, and a spiffy hardhat and vest! 🙂

    Overall, I did find it to be useful.

  13. Todd
    Todd April 24, 2013 5:30 am

    Every high school diploma is a merit badge showing your ability to put up with boredom!

  14. Mic
    Mic April 24, 2013 6:35 am


    I think you underestimated how much great information you received in this class. Just go back and look at your extensive notes…

    1. I see a compass drawn in there, which is what you would use to navigate away from danger.

    2. I see the number “1” “2” and “3” drawn in there, clearly discussing the rule of threes in survival.

    3. Flower of some type, this must have been the edible plants part of the class.

    4. A horse at the top, must have been the part of needing alternative transportation in a grid down situation.

    5. I see eye balls drawn, obviously reminding you to stay sharp and aware in a bad situation.

    See your subconsciousness mind picked up all this great information and you didn’t even know it 🙂

  15. Claire
    Claire April 24, 2013 7:49 am

    LOL! Mic, in yet another good comment section, I think you win the gold star (since we’re on the school theme today) for that one. You did, however, forget to mention the dog, who undoubtedly represents search and rescue.

    Er … or something.

  16. Claire
    Claire April 24, 2013 7:56 am

    I woke up this morning feeling a little embarrassed at not even being able/willing to tough out three hours of boredom and for ranting about that last night when I was tired.

    But I see I’m in good company here. 🙂

    Thinking about it, it’s not so much the boredom. Freelance boredom I handle nicely. It’s that this particular type of “learning” is so clearly designed to keep people in their place (e.g. “the public” is nothing but a nuisance, but a few select members of it are “allowed” limited responsibility, as defined and controlled by FEMA et al.). Not to mention that it’s intelligence-insulting.

    Really did bring back evil memories of high school in the worst way. And even though I already remembered loathing school, my adult perspective made me even more aware of how manipulative and worse-than-useless the “categorize and regurgitate” style of schooling is. It brought home to me how even-more-dreadfully wasted and harmful all those school years were.

    Oh well, at least CERT class didn’t have cheerleaders and social cliques.

  17. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty April 24, 2013 8:09 am

    So shoot me, already, but I actually enjoyed most of my elementary and high school experiences (well, except playground stuff… I’m no athlete). So, when I went to college, I had no trouble enjoying most of the chemistry, biology and so forth. I do tend to concentrate on what I want and have always been able to ignore the rest, but overall it was good.

    And then I had my first actual “nursing” theory class. OMG!! What dreck indeed. We had books, and assigned reading. Then in class, the “teacher” stood at the podium and read the book. What the heck? Two years of that… an absolute waste of time – and a sore butt besides. It was better at the University, but there were days…

    On the other hand, I sat through enough Red Cross disaster team and other such meetings to know exactly what you are talking about, Claire. They don’t really want to be bothered, but somehow have been pressured into at least pretending that they want your “assistance.” As long as you fill out the proper paperwork and don’t challenge any of their “rules,” you will be allowed to do the grunt work they are too good for. A pox on them.

  18. LarryA
    LarryA April 24, 2013 8:48 am

    I’m convinced that the problem with FEMA is that its mission is “Emergency Management.” This focus presumes that a disaster is an unusual happening that requires management. Therefore if they just establish the right organization and institute the correct preplanned response, everything will be hunky-dory.

    The idea that a disaster is an event that overwhelms planned government response is completely outside their box.

  19. Matt, another
    Matt, another April 24, 2013 9:03 am

    I teach adults for a living. Have been doing it more or less for about 20 years now. I also get to write course materials and design courses. I’m poorly educated (no degree) but highly trained and experienced. When I started most training was long the lines of your CERT class. Very little learning ever occured. The focus of those courses was deliver x hours of material, whether the students learned anything was not considered. I have learned two things in those years that stick with me.

    1) if you are the instructor and are bored so are your students.
    2) If you students do not return after lunch or on day 2 you need to fix your material and technique.

  20. Scott
    Scott April 24, 2013 9:05 am

    It’s really a test of how much boredom you can stand and still stay awake. We have yearly requried tests we have to take at work, exactly none of which apply to the department I work in. I think the required-viewing videos were intentionally designed to be as boring as possible..and we don’t get a cool green hardhat..

  21. Matt, another
    Matt, another April 24, 2013 9:54 am

    If the green hard hat is important, you should be able to get one through harbor Freight or Northern Tools for a decent price. A safety vest and clip board can be purchased as well. You don’t need a training certificate if you show up at a disaster with a cool green hard hat, safety vest (goggles too) and clip board. Everyone will think you are in charge and either listen to what you tell them, or ignore you as from the government and irrelevant.

  22. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau April 24, 2013 10:12 am

    “I’m also sure that, buried deep in this course there’s bound to be some useful stuff like proper use of fire extinguishers and how to lift an injured person onto a stretcher. I would like to know that stuff. I would like to practice that stuff.”

    Useful information buried in vast piles of dreck. A sign of our times. Look at any user manual filled with legalese.

    Look at the bright side. If there is one specific bit of information you need, it’s just a google away (or startpage for the security-conscious).

  23. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 24, 2013 12:27 pm

    Your notes look more interesting than the session sounds.

    This is exactly why I never get into school-like situations. The boredom is mind numbing. And it makes me worried that the people teaching it really aren’t smart at all, if they don’t even realize it’s boring.

  24. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit April 24, 2013 2:07 pm

    I’m with MamaL on K-12. But I have to say that your notes look a lot like ones I took in Income Tax Law many years ago….

    Got a C, as I recall….

  25. The Freeholder
    The Freeholder April 24, 2013 3:09 pm

    Having sit through more than my share of CERT classes, I can tell you that it’s simply an exercise in gutting something through. Good on you for managing it.

  26. Shel
    Shel April 24, 2013 3:35 pm

    It’s natural for a person or agency to act in their best interests, something socialism conveniently ignores. With hindsight, it shouldn’t be a great surprise that CERT people are primarily promoting CERT. Likewise many – but certainly not all – police primarily protect police, then think about the citizens.

    Schools likewise are to perpetuate schools and train people to be obedient and regurgitate what they have been taught. Home schooling flies in the face of this, so of course there’s tremendous vitriolic opposition. Some of the most astute people withdrew from school, even at the college level, e.g., Gates and Dell. Most of my friends who are aware of what’s going on haven’t been to college, so they can look at a situation and see the obvious absurdity. Those who have received a true technical education also haven’t been contaminated. Of the remainder, some can see what’s going on and some can’t.

    There are some studies – I can try to track them down if anybody’s interested – that imply that the thought processes of liberals and conservatives are basically different; that suggests a genetic component that can’t be overcome.

    Still, staying in school to get that piece of paper often is the best course of action.

  27. Jolly
    Jolly April 24, 2013 4:25 pm

    I don’t do classroom instruction very well – and dropped out of high school. My main two arch-nemeses were Mrs. Cross ( well-named ) and Mrs. Wayner. The latter was the last straw, and I literally dropped out during her class.

    Both, interestingly, were English teachers. My mother, too, was an English teacher, and when I was 9, I used to help her grade her 6th grade papers.

    In the Navy, I got tons of classroom instruction, and the same pattern emerged: I spent most of the time trying to stay awake, and then they’d place me in front of an alien piece of electronic equipment, and instruct me to “fix it.”

    I was *always* last in “fixing it” during school, but was the best at such once I made it to the fleet.

    I don’t subject my children to classrooms, and it would never occur to me to get a CERT “certification.” I do plan to renew my EMT training at some point, but there’s usually enough “good” to go with the “boring.”


  28. David Gross
    David Gross April 24, 2013 4:55 pm

    Did they try to make you sign a loyalty oath? When I went to the first class of San Francisco’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT is its CERT) training, the first thing they did when I walked in the door was to take my name and hand me three sheets of paper to sign. Two were the sort of liability release forms that everybody has to sign nowadays to keep the lawyers from circling overhead. But the first one of the batch was, I kid you not, a loyalty oath.

    Yessiree: I apparently cannot volunteer to help out in case of earthquake, tsunami, fire, or flood without submitting to such a thing. The section of the California Government Code that governs the program insists that I “solemnly” swear

    “(or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

    “And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means except as follows: ________________________________________ (If no affiliations, write in the words “No Exceptions”) and that during such time as I hold the office of ______________ I will not advocate nor become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means.”

    Not only that, but it’s a felony to be an oath-taking disaster volunteer who nonetheless “advocates or becomes a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or violence or other unlawful means.”

    It turned out, though, that even if I don’t take the oath they’ll let me take the class and learn what it takes to be helpful, but they won’t give me the helmet, vest, and membership card that makes me an official mouseketeer. I think I can live with that.

  29. Bear
    Bear April 24, 2013 5:31 pm

    (running a little late)

    I actually have a green hard hat. Any bids?

  30. Claire
    Claire April 24, 2013 7:04 pm

    A loyalty oath??? And this is in cosmopolitan San Francisco???

    I’ll skip the loyalty oath, thank you. (And no, they didn’t ask.)

    But Bear, I’ll bid on the green hard hat. 🙂 It doesn’t even have to say CERT on it.

  31. IndividualAudienceMember
    IndividualAudienceMember April 24, 2013 7:23 pm

    I had a bad dream about my old green hard hat the night before, one I hadn’t thought about in years and years, and then I come on here and it’s attack of the green hard hats. Ha. Minor bit of Jungian Synchronicity of some sort?

    On the plus side, the drawings were nice.
    One sorta looked like it should be on the cover of an Isaac Asimov book though. The horse.

    Also, why aren’t those EMT classes just a DVD with a link to a blog to ask questions?
    That’s rhetorical.

  32. LarryA
    LarryA April 24, 2013 10:32 pm

    The irony of the loyalty oath is that the only way to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” these days IS to overthrow the government.

  33. Spatter
    Spatter April 24, 2013 11:06 pm

    I managed to rush through high school and college and actually graduate from both. In those days, you could smoke in college classrooms.

    Now, when I’m bored, I fall asleep and start to snore. It is not appreciated.

  34. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty April 25, 2013 12:32 pm

    Ah, the memories. One could not safely sleep in my second year organic chemistry class. The Greek instructor would then proceed to tell jokes at your expense. Have you ever heard Greek personal jokes? LOL

    Now, one could safely sleep in any of my English or writing classes, of course, but I never did. I loved to argue with them.

  35. Terry
    Terry April 25, 2013 8:10 pm

    Haha Claire

    My wife feels the same way about school as you, so of course I had to read her your post. I could see her cringing, she tells me her pulse got to pounding, her chest tightened, she wanted to run screaming from the room. Haven’t I always told you you’re an excellent writer!
    She says she got her revenge, she became a teacher 🙂 [She’s a *good* one, let me reassure you – private details if you want (OPSEC conditions)]

  36. just waiting
    just waiting April 26, 2013 10:18 am

    I look at classes like this differently. I don’t go to find out what I can do, I go to find out what THEY”RE going to do.

    Once you know what to expect from tptb, it makes it that much easier to devise your own plan.

  37. furrydoc
    furrydoc April 30, 2013 8:02 pm

    We could teach the stuff you want to know on the next Scout E-Prep camp out. Of course you have to endure camping with 15 to 20 teen age boys. That’s a survival experience in itself! We practice all sorts of emergency situations and help the kids work the solution. We teach them several types of injured person carries, first aid, outdoor cooking, water purification, fire starting, shelter building and so much more.

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