Tag: training

Muscle Memory and Emergency Preparedness Training

raining and muscle memory

By now we’ve all heard the concept of “muscle memory.” That is, if you practice something enough, when called upon your body will remember what to do even if your brain is sidetracked.

Professionals train constantly. They develop all kinds of muscle memory, and every day we hear stories how that training has paid off.

Volunteers, on the other hand, are a different story. When it comes to preparedness training for volunteers within the neighborhood, we have a challenge.

Here is the training challenge as I see it.

  • Even in a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training session with the guidance of professional instructors we can TALK about what to do in an emergency medical situation. We can SHOW people how clear airways, check for breathing, and test circulation. We can PRACTICE once or twice with professional supervision.

    Then we go home! And we are lucky to get a refresher course on those particular procedures within the next month or even 6 months!
  • In our local neighborhood group meetings we don’t have professionally-trained leaders. We depend on our own volunteer members to come up with good ways to prepare and to respond. When we’re lucky, we attract a guest speaker with special credentials.

    Then we go home! And we may never hear from that speaker again!

A current LinkedIn discussion group sees the challenge, too.

I participate in a LinkedIn group for emergency managers. There’s a discussion taking place right now about providing enough on-going training for people at different levels of expertise.

In particular, the discussion is focusing on the very audience I mentioned above – the concerned and committed volunteer who may be part of a local community but not part of a formal program.

How can we give these people the chance to develop that all-important “muscle memory?”

Here’s some of what I’ve learned about meeting the training challenge.

Online resources. There are a number of online resources, courses and online videos. We have used many of them in our group. The challenge is having to first find and then sort through them all, site by site and video by video, to find one that fits your group’s level of interest, its budget and is of a quality you’re comfortable with. As we know, there is no easy way to “rate” the quality of ANYTHING online!

Local resources. In our community we occasionally have the opportunity to attend a face-to-face course offered by the Red Cross or a health care organization. Some of these are free; most charge a fee. Some communities are more fortunate in that they have regular such programs offered through a university. (Here are two examples, the first at Columbia and the second at the University of Kansas.  https://ncdp.columbia.edu/practice/training-education/online-face-to-face-training/ and http://rtcil.org/emergencypreparedness/onlinetrainings)

Books. By now, you realize I’ve tried to capture some training ideas in the books I’ve written.  The advantage of books is that they are inexpensive, available everywhere, and eminently portable. The disadvantage – reading about an idea in a book doesn’t train muscle memory! Some dedicated member of the group has to turn the idea into an actual training exercise. (That’s what I try to assist with in Emergency Preparedness Meeting Ideas.)

Training that can actually involve muscle memory is by far the most desirable. For volunteers, it’s still very tough to come by.

But when it comes to emergency preparedness, ANY training is better than none!

You can get started now with some of the resources mentioned above. One thing for sure: There will be no time for training once the disaster hits!

Day 24 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Building a Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Team



Yes, it’s fun to pull together survival kits for yourself and family members. For some of us, getting more and better survival gear turns out to be a sort of addiction! (A healthy addiction, we believe.) And creating family plans is satisfying, even though they require constant updating.

But once your immediate household is organized, what then?

Building a neighborhood emergency preparedness group

When the emergency hits, are your neighbors going to be knocking on your door, looking for help?

They may. And you may not want or be able to help them.

The only way to solve this problem is to encourage neighbors and co-workers to be as prepared as you are!

We have devoted a lot of our time over the past 15 years to helping our neighbors get prepared, trained and organized.  If you’ve been reading our Advisories, you know about some of what we’ve done.

Now we’re adding one more piece to the puzzle.

Building a Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Team — getting more attention.

About 3 years ago, we started a whole new section on building a neighborhood group. Here’s how we started that section:

  1. Step One was to pull together all our original material on team-building that we’ve created for Emergency Plan Guide readers. That list starts at the bottom of this post.
  2. Step Two was to reach out to other organizations around the U.S. for their best ideas. In fact, many of our blog posts already link to others’ stories and skills, and we’ve added more and more.
  3. Step Three was to solicit specific input for Emergency Plan Guide readers. We continue to do this, and you can help by referring us to people or sources you know, or by suggesting a topic you’d like to know more about. We’ll track down and share the best info we can find!

Let’s start with resources for those people who have already made the commitment to starting or building a neighborhood group.

We assume that as the leader, you will have found a way to get formal CERT training for yourself.  Not all members of your team may get training, but you need the framework and vocabulary of CERT so that your group can work effectively together and with local first responder teams.

So to start with Step One for building a neighborhood emergency preparedness team . . .

. . .here is a list of some original material from the Emergency Plan Guide collection. Most of this is ready for download as is, with the first couple of handbooks available for purchase.  We hope you’ll find what you need for YOUR group!

Comprehensive training manuals

  • The Neighborhood Disaster Survival Series — our 4 books aimed at building groups in different kinds of neighborhoods. Each book is over 100 pages filled with specific steps and suggestions based on 15 years of growing our own group.  The books are at Amazon, in ebook (downloadable) or paperback.
  • Meeting Ideas — A collection of meeting ideas, with a list of what you’ll need, how best to schedule the activities, what to watch out for, etc. $10 at Amazon. Get more details by clicking the link.

Stand-alone subjects for training or discussion

  • UPDATED! How to Recruit Volunteers — We just updated this list. Download your copy now!
  • How to Hold a Great Meeting — Event-planning basics that you’re probably familiar with, but that can help others on your team get up to speed. Since we started our own group, we’ve been able to provide a great overhead projection and sound system for our guest speakers.  That helps, as long as you have some skilled audio-visual people on hand!
  • Finding Leaders — Every member of your team needs to be able to step up to lead. After all, when the emergency hits, you can’t be sure who will be on hand.
  • Active Shooter Event — Worth a discussion, particularly given recent developments here and abroad.
  • For more, just click on NEIGHBORHOOD in the category listing in the sidebar to the right.

Possible group investments

More to come! (Be sure to sign up to get our Advisories so you don’t miss anything!)

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Step Two for Building a Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Team is to reach out to other organizations. Just last week you saw the results of some of our outreach when we wrote about the Lamorinda California CERT team’s upcoming meeting. Please share what YOUR group is doing!

Why are you a prepper?


My neighbors vote on preparedness. The result?


“Raise your hand . . .”

At our recent homeowner’s association meeting, I asked for a show of hands:

“How many of you have set aside food and water for an emergency?”

Response was good. About 80% of the 100 or so people there raised a hand.

Next question:

“How many of you are prepared to provide your neighbor with food and water?”

Hands that had been raised to answer the first question went down immediately.

We all looked around. Not a single hand was visible. The sound of weak laughter was heard, then it died away.

Even after years of effort in building a neighborhood emergency response group, we recognize that . . .

Being prepared seems mostly to be a commitment to oneself.

On the other hand (pun!), a number of our neighbors are willing to encourage and even help others prepare. Based on the “vote” above, you might not expect this commitment. What’s behind it?

What gets and keeps a neighborhood emergency response group going?

Every so often we quiz everyone in our own neighborhood group about why they are a part of it – when we really don’t have many emergencies to respond to!

Here’s what we know about our members.

  • They have a “social conscience.” The most common answer to why they participate is always the same: “I want to give back.”
  • They feel a sense of responsibility for the community, and typically are engaged with other neighbors one way or another.
  • They acknowledge the risks that face the community. In our case, those risks include earthquake, wildfire, and, more frequently, loss of electricity and water. And, in an earthquake, broken gas mains.
  • They like feeling empowered. Our group members are familiar with the infrastructure of our community. They know where First Responders come from and how long it takes them to get here. They understand how our mobile radio station works and who we’ll be calling in an emergency. And they know the limitations that our property managers operate under.
  • They like their gear. Our members use their walkie-talkies every month, and bring battery-operated lanterns, first aid kits and fire extinguishers to meetings when we advertise a “show and tell.” (And they really like winning the door prize – even if it’s a simple $2 LED flashlight.)


How to encourage more people in the neighborhood to prepare for themselves?

We have found that people who aren’t willing to take steps on their own to prepare for emergencies will sometimes respond – slowly and maybe begrudgingly – to repeated messages of . . .

  • Guilt (“What will your children say when they are hungry and you didn’t think ahead enough to provide for them?”)
  • Fear (“Imagine being trapped under debris, in the dust and dark, unable to move . . .”)
  • A friendly helping hand (“Here’s a simple list of the top 5 things to do, and a bottle of water to get started.”)


How to encourage more people to join in the neighborhood emergency response group?

To be successful, any group has to offer benefits to its members. We try to focus on some of these in our communications and monthly meetings . . .

  • Make it fun! (I mentioned door prizes above. They do work at meetings! And we try to include a joke once in a while in our “educational” pieces.)
  • Give everybody a job that helps make a meeting a success – set up the room, be a greeter, take notes, whatever.
  • Recognize accomplishments – new CERT graduates, someone who used a skill learned in the group in a real life situation. Last month one of our members connected with a relative in another state and got some good preparedness info passed along to a whole new audience!
  • Keep training. Our members like to keep learning new stuff. (They particularly like learning from new instructors – some of whom are now coming from videos on YouTube.)
  • Make it easy to join. Have a welcome and orientation package for new group members. Ease them in; they don’t have to know everything you know on their very first day.

As I write this, I realize I’m writing in part for myself! Having been actively involved in our neighborhood group ever since I took the CERT training in 2002, I’ve observed and tried every one of the suggestions above! Over the years, the size of our group has varied from 15 or so to as many as 85, and then come back down again.

As we have said many times, preparedness is much more a STATE OF MIND than a stash of emergency supplies. And in a real emergency, it’s the people closest to you – that is, your neighbors – who will be the true First Responders. The more THEY know, the more prepared THEY are, the safer YOU will be!

So, I guess we just keep keeping on!

Please add your comments to this post, and your suggestions for inspiring people to take action for themselves and to take action for their neighbors, too.

It’s the best we can do!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are building a neighborhood group, please take a look at the manual I put together a few months ago. It details many of the successful meeting we’ve held over the past few years. If you’re in the midst of planning a neighborhood meeting right now, it will be a big help!



Fire In Your Home!


How safe are you? Take this quiz.

Cigarettes cause fatal firesPick the correct answer:

  1. According to FEMA, what is the leading cause of residential fires in the U.S.?
  • Kitchen fires
  • Smoking
  • Wild fires
  1. What is the leading cause of civilian deaths caused by fire?
  • Kitchen fires
  • Smoking
  • Wild fires

True or False:

  1. Cooking is and has long been the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries.
  2. Most cooking fires and cooking deaths are a result of the heat source being too close to combustibles.
  3. Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of fires than those using gas ranges.
  4. Fires caused by smoking material (burning tobacco) are on the increase.
  5. The risk of dying in a home structure fire caused by smoking materials rises with age.

The peak day of the year for home cooking fires is: ____________________

The Answers

Here are some statistics to ponder.

In 2012, 36.8% of home fires causing injury started from cooking. (Many more kitchen fires actually take place, but are put out by occupants and not reported.)

That same year, smoking caused 15% of the fires resulting in fatalities, followed closely by carelessness (13%) and then fires set on purpose (12%).


Most kitchen fires happen when the cook leaves whatever is cooking unattended. And most of those involve frying on electric ranges

The right portable fire extinguisher can be effectively used to suppress small fires in their beginning stages. However, the extinguisher must be properly rated and needs to be positioned where you can get it quickly and safely.

If you blast a skillet full of flaming cooking grease with the wrong extinguisher, you’ll create a fireball, greatly increasing the size of the fire and threatening you with serious burn injuries.

The day with the most cooking fires? Thanksgiving Day!


Three-quarters of deaths due to smoking-material fires involve fires starting in bedrooms (40%) or in living rooms, family rooms, and dens (35%). The item most frequently ignited is trash, but trash doesn’t kill – people die when upholstered furniture catches.

Nearly half (46%) fatal home smoking-material fire victims were age 65 or older.

One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire.

The Action

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, do it outside. Carefully put out your butts.
  • Be ready in the kitchen.
    1. Clear space around the stove. No mitts, no clipboards, no recipe holders.
    2. Have a lid and/or cookie sheet READY to cover a grease fire. It has to fit SNUGLY on top of the pan, blocking all air.
    3. Have a large box of baking soda handy to dump on and smother a small fire.
    4. Buy a kitchen fire extinguisher and position it between the stove and the door. Be sure you know how to use it. Remember that a powerful fire extinguisher could SPLASH AND SPREAD THE FLAMES if directed too closely at a burning grease fire.
  • If a fire starts in a pan . . .
    1. Try to put it out immediately! It can grow too big to handle within 30 seconds.
    2. Do not move a flaming pan. You could spill flaming grease all across the floor or counter, instantly creating multiple fires!
    3. Cover the stationary pan with a lid, cookie sheet or wet towel. Make sure all air is blocked.
    4. Turn off the burner.
    5. Leave the pan until everything has cooled.
  • If you can’t control the fire at the pan . . .
    1. Be sure other occupants are evacuated.
    2. Use your fire extinguisher. Pull the pin, aim, squeeze and sweep. Start several steps away and approach the fire as you see the effect of the spray.
    3. If not successful, call 911 and leave the home.

Fire is the most common emergency your family is likely to face, so share this information with them! Be sure your children know how to put out a cooking fire, and train older children in the use of a fire extinguisher.

If family members haven’t been trained about how to respond to a fire in the kitchen, they are likely to do the wrong thing!

You can find dramatic videos on YouTube that show what happens when grease ignites, what happens when people try to move the pan, or when water is thrown on the fire. And you can find good training for how to use a fire extinguisher there, too.  Take advantage of this great resource.

Want more details?

Two websites with statistical info:


And this Emergency Plan Guide Advisory gives tips on shopping for fire extinguishers:

Fire extinguisher, anyone? 

Hope you take this Advisory to heart. In this case, there’s no need to become a statistic when you know what to do.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Share this quiz and its answers with your neighborhood emergency response group, too. Remember, the more prepared your neighbors are, the safer YOU will be!

Neighborhood Planning for Emergencies


Do you have plans for your neighborhood?

Rescue workers in earthquake

Who will get there first? Neighbors!

Certainly, preparing yourself and your household for emergencies is important. But, as we’ve said many times, your single most important link to survival is your immediate neighbors.

Their proximity to you (and yours to them) means that they will be the first people on the scene in a real emergency. The more you and they know about surviving a disaster, the better the chances for everyone.

So, do you have plans underway to form a neighborhood Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)?  And making sure its members are trained, and ready? Encouraging you to do so – and providing help in this regard – is the real purpose of this website.

Organize the neighborhood team.

Here’s what our neighborhood Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) looks like. How does this description compare to yours? We have close to a hundred team members in various stages of training. About a third of our members have received city-sponsored CERT training. There are over 350 homes in our group, divided into six divisions, with six Block Captains under each Division Leader. We have six special teams: First Aid, Communications, Search and Rescue, Operations, Logistics, and Training.

Increasing the Effectiveness of the Team.

We are currently evaluating a number of options to provide our Team Members with advanced training and equipment that increases our capabilities. Among the areas we are focusing on . . .

  • Communications – probably the most critical component in our emergency planning
  • Standby/Emergency Power – High on all of our members’ lists
  • Transportation – Related to communications; different communities have unique needs
  • First Aid/Triage – Helping injured people has a protocol
  • Temporary Shelter – Caring for neighbors who’ve lost their home in an emergency
  • Search and Rescue – Here again, there is a protocol and Pets complicate matters
  • Emergency Equipment – Water, food and medicines are individual responsibilities; the neighborhood can invest in more substantial items
  • Security — Tricky, but necessary. Training is essential!

The series of posts that accompany this one will discuss each of these eight categories. We will cover the usefulness and the drawbacks of several pieces of equipment as well as the servicing requirements of each. And we’ll discuss ways to finance these purchases.

Our hope is that this information will give you a head start on your team planning.   We’ve chosen to start with the emergency power since that seems to be what most people think is their first consideration.

But first, consider the following Action item:  What constitutes YOUR neighborhood?  If you haven’t really begun neighborhood planning for emergencies, and need to decide on the boundaries for your neighborhood, check out this article:  Who Will Be There To Help?

Don’t miss a single Advisory.  Sign up below.

Emergency Preparedness Vocabulary


We get used to using the jargon of preparedness, and sometimes forget that not everybody thinks about this stuff on a daily basis! Here is some basic emergency preparedness vocabulary you can share with your neighbors and co-workers, particularly if they are new to the concept or if their English language skills aren’t well developed.

Nobody likes to feel left out or stupid. We have found that offering the vocabulary words “as a refresher” is a good way to develop a new level of engagement and confidence. This approach works for everybody!


This is the official word for the emergency itself – whether it is a fire, an earthquake, aftermath of a hurricane, or a train wreck. An incident can be local, or it can be widespread. We often think of something that is “incidental” as being not very important. In the world of emergency response, an incident is the most important thing! The Incident Commander is the person who takes charge of the response. (Interestingly enough, the very first person who arrives at the scene may become the first Incident Commander, but when someone more qualified arrives, that person may take over!)

Search and Rescue

This is pretty straight forward. It refers to searching for, finding and helping people in immediate danger. Professionals often divide this up into specialty sub-fields that require special training and/or equipment, such as mountain rescue, swift water rescue, etc.

Search and rescue activities are stopped if it is clear there are no more living victims, or if the situation becomes too dangerous for the rescuers. Eventually, search and rescue changes over to “recovery.”


When rescuers are searching through collapsed structures, they may want to lift pieces of debris to reach people trapped beneath. To do this safely, they lift piece by piece and create a support structure to hold each layer safely before moving on to the next. The process is called “cribbing.” It usually involves using pry bars to lift debris, then building a support underneath using wooden beams laid across one another in the form of a box.

Triage (“tree-ahzh”)

In a real emergency, one of the hardest jobs for a volunteer is to not stop to help the first injured person they come to! Instead, they go through a process to sort injured people into groups based on their need for medical treatment. Triage is that sorting process. Its purpose is to serve the most people when resources are limited. Typically, injured people are briefly assessed and then labeled as “minor” (a minor injury), “immediate,” “delayed,” or “deceased.” A fully equipped CERT team will have colored labels (see illustration to left) to attach to victims; this helps trained first responders know where to go when they arrive.

CERT (“sirt”)

The Community Emergency Response Team concept was started in Los Angeles in the 1980s and is now in every state of the union. Professional First Responders had seen the role that committed, ordinary citizens can play in large-scale disasters, when resources are delayed or spread thin. So they created training to give citizens a way to act more safely and more effectively. CERT training usually consists of 20-24 hours of classroom study and hands-on practice. In an emergency, CERT graduates are able to act first as individuals and later as teams to assess damage, extinguish fires, perform light search and recue and render first aid. When professional First Responders arrive, CERT teams serve as support if required.

Logistics (“lo-jis-tiks”)

This is the science of getting supplies to where they are needed. In an emergency, it involves understanding the scope of the incident, knowing what tools, supplies or equipment are available and where they are stored, and making arrangements for getting things delivered to where they are needed. A volunteer totally unfamiliar with the neighborhood or business will not be able to manage this job.

In our neighborhood, we have special teams devoted to each of these special areas. The leaders of these teams call upon other volunteers and direct them, as required.

Action item:  Consider printing out these definitions for all team members, and going over them out loud at a training meeting so everyone knows how they sound.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Like words?  Here are a couple of other “vocabulary” lists for different situations!

How To Hold A Great CERT Meeting


Trying to inspire and organize your neighborhood to prepare for an emergency is like trying to sell someone life insurance. “I’d rather not think about it,” is a typical response, often accompanied by a sheepish grin.

But a consistent effort does pay off. Last week we held a meeting of our neighborhood block captains, and around 30 people showed up. It turned out to be one of the best meetings we’ve had.

Action Item:  If you’re planning a get-together, consider incorporating the following ideas.

Changing batteries in handheld radio

Changing batteries in handheld radios

What makes a good meeting?

1. A good reason! In this case, block captains were given new materials for handing out to their neighbors.

2. Good publicity. An article in our neighborhood newsletter, announcement at the Homeowners’ Association meeting, followed by email reminders and flyers hand-delivered to each block captain. (Multiple reminders are essential! It’s like that old saying that people have to see your ad seven times before they buy.)

3. Name tags for everyone. They make you “a part of the group” and make it easier for team members to get to know one another.

4. A role for each person. In this case, each block captain brought his or her radio and we changed out the batteries. (We do it twice a year.)

5. Variety of activities. Attendees changed batteries, watched a short film downloaded from YouTube (while eating popcorn!), and picked up their handouts for their neighbors.

6. Good audio-visual equipment. Our team has invested in a portable speaker that has great sound quality. We hooked up the computer to it when we showed the film, and also used the microphone for training.

The meeting had an agenda, and it was followed.  People got what they came for and were in and out in a tight 60 minutes. They’ll be willing to come out again as a result.

If you are growing a CERT group, consider grabbing a copy of one or both of of Emergency Plan Guide’s “from the trenches” workbooks. They pull ideas from the past 15 years into handy guidebooks. Get details here.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Our third version of Great Meeting Ideas is being assembled now. Sign up for our Advisories below to be sure you get the notice when it comes out!

Random Acts of Violence — Really Random?


violence on campus

Emergency Evacuation

It may seem a bit off target here to deal with a crime that is outside of the strict definition of “terrorism.” To victims of mass shootings by deranged individuals however, it is as much an act of terrorism as any cause-motivated shooting.  This is true whether the act is perpetrated against co-workers or randomly-selected victims as in the case of the Virginia Tech shootings or the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Less workplace violence than expected?

Perhaps surprising is the fact that workplace violence has not appreciably escalated in the past four years, despite the economic downturn and record unemployment.

But more violence in schools

What is noteworthy is the occasional outbreak of violence in public places and around schools — college campuses and more recently, on an elementary school campus.

While it’s true that few people in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado had any opportunity to foresee the events that would unfold that fateful night in the summer of 2012, many people did know or “sense” that something was wrong with James Holmes. And there were warnings about Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech.

Plenty of warnings

Still, most people likely were deterred from doing or saying anything by fear of civil lawsuits or being branded alarmists.

How to defend against this kind of violence?

It starts with co-workers and supervisors in the workplace. In the case of university communities, it starts with fellow students, teachers and administrators in close coordination with appropriate authorities. This is, of course no easy path to even a partial solution.

Education and an atmosphere of open communication without fear of reprisal are admittedly easier talked about than accomplished. They are elusive goals complicated by the fact that every environment is unique and has its own culture and circumstances.

The best advice is to stay tuned in to your surroundings and resist the temptation to ignore the danger signals.  If you can’t defend against this violence, know how to respond.

Run, Hide, Fight

The City of Houston, with the assistance of a Homeland Security Grant, created a 4-minute training video on how to survive an active shooter event.    You can view “Run, Hide, Fight” here:


CAUTION:  This video, although simulated, contains some intense scenes.  Prepare any audience, even your CERT or neighborhood team, before using it as training.