Part 1 is here.
A year later, September of 2002, I came across a course entitled Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which was an eight week course of three hours per week, teaching communities how to respond in an emergency, such as an earthquake or flood, etc. It was free. All you had to do was pay about $35.00 for your equipment, which included a backpack, a helmet, goggles, a vest, a simple face mask, a whistle, and work gloves. Everything else you assembled on your own.
We were taught how to prepare for it, what supplies you would need on hand for you and your family to survive, disaster psychology, light search and rescue techniques, putting out small fires, turning off gas meters, and mass casualty first aid. On the last night, we underwent a test in conditions as close to disaster as possible to give us the feeling and the confidence that we could work together as a team and survive. I’m speaking of a darkened building with victims tricked out with wounds, blood, special wound makeup sprawled on stairs, in various rooms, inside and outside, and all we had were flashlights and certain bandages and splints available to the teams. The victims were local boy scouts and adults who volunteered and took unholy glee in putting us through our paces. I know because I frequently played a victim and it was a joy to shake up would be rescuers. Not only did we participate as rescuers, but also how to set up a base, communicate by ham radio, fill out forms to bring back to base for injury and damaged building tallies, how to tag an injured person with special tape and bring them in for treatment.
In January of 2003, they asked if I would like to become an instructor, which had its own training and education. I taught those classes for nine years three to four times per year. I caught the emergency management response bug.
I ended up working as a temporary secretary admin for the State of Washington in two difference units, Response & Recovery and in Mitigation, Analysis and Plans. They thought I was terrific and wanted me to move up to more senior positions, but I didn’t have a degree. The public service rules are you either had a four year degree, job experience, which meant seven years as an admin with the agency, or actual emergency management experience because you were a soldier, a fireman, an EMT, etc. Merit and talent were not enough. It really helped if you spoke government-ease – a language all its own with special words for ordinary descriptions. I did not speak the correct language, therefore my applications did not muster up.
I pounded my head against that wall, each time shredding my confidence in myself and my talents and skills until I realized I did not want to spend another seven years as an admin, pressing my nose up against a window that was permanently shut unless I had that magic piece of paper. What was truly maddening was that everybody who had a Bachelor degree scoffed at it, saying it had helped check a box, nothing more, on their applications. The exact position I was in.
Here’s the thing. The first time I walked into the building, I was given a tour, which included the Alert & Warning Center, which sits directly off the Emergency Operations Room, which is only used when we are in a full on authorized disaster or for educational purposes. The Alert & Warning Center though was the heartbeat of the entire building. It was manned 24/7/365 days and nights by two officers in 12 hour shift pairs. They were the initial point of contact for any disaster or emergency requiring State assistance, coordinating joint response efforts locally, statewide, federally, and for Indian Nation Tribes.
The Alert & Warning Center was a low-lighted room, with six computer screens for each officer, incredible pieces of equipment that would allow them to contact instantly on a wide scale and coordinate response. There were 10 officers qualified to be in the room in all of the State of Washington. The pay was piss-poor. I made thousands more as a legal assistant than I ever would as a State Emergency Operations Officer, but they did stuff. They handled emergencies. They took care of their fellow citizens on a big scale. I wanted to be a State Emergency Operations Officer with my entire heart and soul the instant I saw the Alert & Warning Center. They were a special brotherhood and I wanted to be one of them.
Continued… Part 3 coming up.