Many in Muskego received credit for helping out their neighbors after the 2010 tornado that left the Post Office and many other homes damaged and thousands without power. However, the odds aren't in our favor overall in having the know-how or equipment to deal with a tragedy.
Jim Day, with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, threw out a disturbing statistic: 75 percent of the public is completely unprepared to deal with a disaster, including a flood, widespread power outage or even a car accident scene.
The good news is that since 1985 CERT has grown from a program of the Los Angeles Fire Department to a nationally recognized program that teaches average citizens how to help out in the critical hours after a disaster. Muskego was recently host to one of the classes offered in the area, a 20-hour training that includes knowing how to shut off the gas if a leak is suspected, how to break a car window in order to get to someone that is injured after an accident, but above all, self-preservation.
"You are ultimately the most important priority in the aftermath of a storm," explained instructor and Muskego Police Officer Gary Mrotek. "If you are taken out or injured, you can't help anyone else. The point is to keep yourself safe while also reaching out to your family and neighbors to then help them."
Beyond the occasional appearance of a tornado in Muskego, (in reality our index score for those is higher than the state and even higher than the nation), there are blizzards that can keep us homebound or stuck in our cars; there are also manmade disasters to consider.
If you think about it Muskego is host to an electrical path that supplies most of the electricity to the Midwest. In addition, we are also a flightway, meaning that on a given day, dozens of large aircraft on approach to Mitchell International fly directly over us, some of which could experience failure resulting in a crash here.
The underlying question is always: would you know what to do to save yourself and then others?
Mrotek suggest starting with a kit of supplies that would last you and anyone in your family at home for as many as four days. (A smaller kit for your car is also a great idea.) Simple items like ample water supply (we need about a gallon per person, per day), peanut butter and granola bars to keep us nourished, blankets, flashlights, gloves and an emergency or NOAA weather radio with batteries can be placed in a bin somewhere in your home. This can also be taken with you quickly if you can't stay in your home.
And for heaven's sake, don't forget the duct tape.
In addition, CERT teams that complete the course are urged to start their own backpacks to grab and go to assist law enforcement should duty call. Rubber and leather gloves, flashlights, basic medical supplies like gauze, and tools that may be required for search and rescue after a disaster are all important. The idea is not to replace police and fire personnel, but to assist their efforts in reaching the most people as soon as possible.
Students also learn basic first aid, like splinting limbs they suspect of being broken, and bandaging wounds to slow or stop bleeding until medical personnel can attend to them. However, CPR is not taught and it's because CERT teams aren't there to treat as much triage.
"The idea is to sort through victims to determine who can walk out on their own, who might need a little attention, and those who are immediately in danger," Mrotek said. "If you come upon someone that is likely dead, we would rather you continue on to those you know you can help rather than spending 10 minutes on one person who can't be saved."
Triage is a French word that means 'sort,' which in the golden hour after an accident or disaster, that's job one, as callous as it may sound. Worst injuries first, then others follow.
Classmates also work together in hands-on 'practicals' that simulate a home compromised by tornado damage, as well as performing search and rescue for a missing person who may be in danger as he didn't take his insulin for more than 12 hours. The idea is team-building and organizing to perform efficiently along with the hierarchy of law enforcement teams.
Having recently 'graduated' from the program that just completed on Saturday, I feel more informed and a little more prepared. However, I realized quickly during our practicals just how much of the notes I diligently took could be recalled. Sadly, not as much as I'd like.
Thankfully, a website for CERT exists and includes a wealth of information on checklists, refresher courses and additional trainings that are available to learn even more. If you're interested in becoming a part of the 25 percent that does know what to do 'when', visit the site.
Locally, we are known as Citizens and Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). It will also provide upcoming trainings, some of which are held at the Tess Corners Fire Stations and at nearby stations in Franklin. Classes are free, which eliminates any excuse not to arm yourself with knowledge.