Many people, including those of us with disabilities, wonder what role disabled CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members can play during an actual disaster or incident. The answer is: anything that person feels comfortable with, as long as it isn’t beyond the scope of his or her CERT training. Here are seven examples of assignments that CERTs with disabilities can and have done during actual incidents:
1. Search and Rescue
People with disabilities can serve on search and rescue teams. Not all search and rescue takes place in rubble; when the area searched is in a building with no steps or in an outside area that is relatively flat, folks who use wheelchairs also be assigned. People with disabilities can be note-takers for the team, lead survivors to safety and serve as a communication link via ham radio.
2. Disaster Medical Ops
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There are a number of assignments that CERTs with disabilities can perform in the medical triage area – head-to-toe assessments and first aid are a couple of things that come to mind. People who are blind or visually impaired can quickly and efficiently do these tasks, especially using the buddy system.
Logistics involves procuring goods and services to be used during the incident. Disabled CERTs can assist in arranging for these and in some cases, delivering certain goods to operations teams.
Communications can involve hand-carrying instructions or queries to teams within the Incident Command System, or using amateur (ham) radios. Denver CERT makes extensive use of ham radios for communications and fully one-third of the Communications team (including myself) are people with disabilities. In our system, a communications person is assigned to each operations team, as well as the Incident Command team.
5. Safety Officers
CERTs with disabilities make excellent safety officers, whether they are attached to an operations team or are part of the command staff. Safety officers make sure that teams and individuals are operating as safely as possible within the scope of the incident. They have the authority to stop a team if they are doing something unsafe and show them how to perform the action in a safe manner.
Note-taking is an administrative task that is essential for all aspects of the incident. CERTs with disabilities who are able to write or type using a tablet or other mobile device can be assigned to this critical function.
7. Incident Commander or Command Staff
Having a disability shouldn’t exclude someone from being an Incident Commander or being part of Command staff. Command staff includes the Public Information Officer (PIO), Safety Officer, Liaison Officer and Communications Officer. Section Chiefs from Operations, Planning, Logistics and Administration report directly to the Incident Commander; these roles can also be filled by CERTs with disabilities.
It is important to remember that people with disabilities generally won’t volunteer for a position that they cannot physically perform, so don’t be surprised if a visually impaired CERT offers to be a note-taker, a former paramedic who uses a wheelchair volunteers to be the Medical group leader, or a person who communicates using a tablet indicates that she is able to be the safety officer for her search and rescue team. Also, CERT teams use the buddy system, so the disabled CERT won’t be performing any action by themselves. Don’t let our disabilities fool or distract you – we have many gifts and talents that, like you, we are able to use to help in a disaster.