Spring Valley, California - After a devastating earthquake, first responders may be tied up with complicated rescues and emergency operations. That’s when a member of a Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, could step in with triage, light rescue, rescue and first aid skills. Over the weekend, an estimated 150 trained and certified volunteers tested their skills in a vacant Spring Valley shopping center as part of a countywide exercise.

“We’ve received a distress call from Spring Valley of injured and trapped people in a supermarket and are requesting assistance from County CERT teams,” squawks an emergency radio.  “The area is blocked by debris and must be moved prior to entering subject area. Please organize your teams and proceed with caution.”

And so began Saturday’s exercise at the Sweetwater Village Shopping Center.

Volunteers played the roles of victims who were caught in the building during a significant earthquake. Some victims may be partly trapped under or blocked by debris or were injured and are unable to get out on their own.

“We put together a countywide drill for all the folks who have gone through the certified training,” said Hugo Bermudez, Chula Vista Fire Department Volunteer CERT Program Manager.  The exercise gave them a crash course on specific skills and then followed up with a real-life scenario to demonstrate those skills.

In the morning, teams rotated through five stations where they learned or reviewed skills such as light triage and medical aid, stabilization and hazard removal in an emergency environment, victim search and rescue, and team management. The 35-minute training stations were taught by uniformed fire department experts in various fields.

“I want them to learn something they haven’t learned before,” said Bermudez, adding they were trying to help volunteers exercise the skills they needed to practice and retain.

Countywide exercises also serve as an infrequent opportunity to train and work together with CERT teams from other parts of the County. Two countywide exercises are planned every year in addition to the community’s training schedule. Teams were randomly mixed to help members work with other trained CERT members.

The Community Emergency Response Team program provides disaster preparedness training to volunteers on topics that include fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT members must undergo 24 hours of training to receive certification, and purchase personal protective equipment to participate.

San Diego County has 32 CERT programs with more than 4,000 volunteers. To find out more about the program and to see if there are any opportunities to join in your community, visit the County’s CERT