Getting Started in Lincoln, Nebraska

Sunny, clear, a bit humid, and highs in the low 90’s.  We are having great weather in Lincoln, Nebraska.  You just can’t feel bad on a day like today.

We’re starting our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer class.  We have 18 students in class for the next three days from across the State of Nebraska.  These dedicated 18 come from various walks of life including public safety, education, health and medical, as well as ordinary citizens that are looking to help their communities be better prepared.  There are two somewhat unique characteristics of this class.  Several students represent the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and several others represent education, and more specifically community college and university.  While having different backgrounds, they come with a common goal – to learn how to be a more effective instructor of the CERT Basic training sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This is my first trip to Nebraska, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy the blessing I’ve been given as a contracted instructor of the CERT program.  I’ve been able to travel around and see this great country of ours and meet the wonderful people that make up our communities.  CERT volunteers specifically have proven themselves to be a very committed group of people that want to give back to the community.

Nebraska has 11 registered Citizen Corps Councils spread across the state. If you aren’t familiar with Citizen Corps, the mission of Citizen Corps is to locally have a process and organizational structure in place to harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service.  Counsels can positively impact to a community’s ability to be safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds.  There are five federally sponsored partner programs under the Citizen Corps umbrella including Fire Corps, USAonWatch, Medical reserve Corps (MRC), Volunteers in Police (VIPS), Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and of course CERT.  Like other states in the country, many of the Nebraska CERT teams are very active and functional.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are teams that are either just starting or are reengineering themselves.

The core concept of CERT is preparing individuals to take care of themselves and families when a disaster occurs.    The range of disasters is great across the United States.  In Nebraska, according to the Nebraska’s Risk Assessment Survey results ( http://www.nema.ne.gov/pdf/hazmitplan.pdf ), the state has identified the following risks:

High Risk

  • Thunderstorm
  • Severe Winter Storm
  • Tornado
  • Terrorism

Medium Risk

  • Drought
  • Agricultural
  • Flooding
  • Wildfire
  • Chemical

Low Risk

  • Earthquake

While CERT voluteers may not ever be directly involved in response activities to any of these risks, they certainly can help themselves and their families (and their neighbors) become better prepared for most, if not all of them.  And by being better prepared that translates into less demand on our public safety system.

Tower Building Exercise

One of the “hands-on” exercises we did in class this morning was the infamous “Tower Building” exercise.  The purpose of the exercise is to introduce the participants to each other and illustrate the types of skills and abilities that CERTs require.

I really like this exercise and have used it (and variations of it) in other training classes I’ve conducted.  I want to share the instructions with you in case you want to use it in training you might conduct (i.e. Leadership, Project Management, etc.).

Here’s a list of the items needed to conduct the exercise:

  • Scissors (1 for every 5 participants)
  • Tape (1 roll for every 5 participants)
  • Two pieces of cardboard, approximately 8 by 10 inches  (1 set for every 5 participants)
  • Forty pieces of construction paper, 8.5 by 11 inches (1 set for every 5 participants)

And here’s how we make the magic happen:

  1. Assign the participants to groups of five
  2. Distribute the materials to each group
  3. Tell the groups that they will spend the next 10 minutes planning and designing a freestanding tower that stands at least 5 feet tall from the bottom of the structure to the top.  Explain that you will tell the groups when to begin and that they will have 5 minutes from that point to construct the tower.  Emphasize that the first 5 minutes is for planning only.
  4. Tell the groups when to begin their work and when to end.

At the end of the allotted time, facilitate a group discussion of what the groups have learned through the exercise.  Keep in mind that the exercise is not intended to be just an “ice-breaker.”  The exercise also demonstrates how unfamiliar people can work on an unfamiliar problem under unfamiliar conditions and in a time-compressed environment to reach a common goal.  These are the conditions under which CERTs will need to work to reach desired outcomes.

Well, at the close of the day we ended up where we planned and we seemed to have shared a lot of knowledge.  Tomorrow, we’ll continue to work on our instructional skills including our first of two student teach-backs.  We’ll also continue to review the material in the basic CERT class.  I hope you’ll come back and check-in with us.

I’ll leave you with a couple of class pictures.

Our room setup just before the start of class.

Our room setup just before the start of class.

Nebraska State Coordinator Citizen Corps/Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator welcomes the class to Day 1. Mr. Ryan Lowry

Mr. Ryan Lowry, Nebraska State Citizen Corps/Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator welcomes the class to Day 1.

fellow instructor "Joe" leading a unit of instruction.

fellow instructor “Joe” leading a unit of instruction.

One group building their tower.  Great teamwork!

One group building their tower. Great teamwork!

A little debriefing about the Tower building.

A little debriefing about the Tower building.

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