The SFFD NERT program is a 20-hour training program where volunteers learn about how San Francisco responds during a widespread natural disaster like an earthquake, flood, fire, etc. We received training on how to properly locate, identify, and operate gas valves in residential neighborhoods, how to use a fire extinguisher, as well as how to triage multiple victims in a mass casualty situation. We learned about the city’s disaster command and control structure, and how we should have 72 hours worth of food, water, and supplies in the event of a major disaster.
When the next big earthquake happens, city services will be overwhelmed and so residents should be prepared to take care of themselves for the first few days. Critically injured patients along with fires and flooding will receive higher priority. Available volunteers can help supplant overwhelmed city services, and provide much needed logistical, medical, and other rescue assistance.
The SFPD ALERT program is an optional 8-hour add-on training which one can take only after completing NERT training. ALERT trainees receive additional training such as traffic control, foot patrol, assisting with office work, and other skills needed in a citywide emergency.
The NERT and ALERT Teams are typically activated a few days after an incident, since volunteers are instructed to take care of ourselves and our loved ones first. Only once our loved ones are secured should we go and volunteer to help other city residents.
What I really enjoyed about both programs is learning new skills and becoming a better citizen of my community. Programs such as NERT and ALERT help empower people and strengthen a city.
For more information, you can visit http://www.sf-fire.org/index.aspx?page=859 and http://sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=4019. The Federal Government administrates other local groups across the country, so check here to see if your local police and fire departments have a similar volunteer program.