Jewish Journal

Be a Rescuer – Not a Bystander

by Susan Esther Barnes

May 15, 2013 | 8:00 am

The Big One is coming. We Californians know it. We don’t know how big it will be, when it will hit, or where the epicenter will be, but we know another big earthquake will happen in our state. When it does, each of us will fall into one of three categories: Victim, rescuer, or bystander.

There are precautions we can take against being a victim, but there are no guarantees. Even if we strap down our water heaters, bolt our bookshelves to the walls, and take other measures, the fact is that if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can be injured or killed in an earthquake.

But once the shaking stops, those of us who are not killed or injured will find ourselves faced with a choice: Will we be a rescuer, or a bystander?

As we have seen with other disasters, when there is a large event impacting large numbers of people, professional first responders are overwhelmed. While they concentrate on areas with large numbers of people (city centers, sporting and other event venues), large fires and the like, those in the less dense, outlying areas, in particular, will be left to fend for themselves, at least for a while.

Who is going to check in on the elderly person living on your street? Who is going to know how to turn off the gas that you smell leaking from next door? Who is going to provide first aid to the neighbor with a broken leg? If you’re waiting for the police, the fire fighters, or the local utility company, you’re going to have a long wait.

That’s why we have CERT – Community Emergency Response Teams. These volunteers are trained to help in an emergency, when professional first responders are overwhelmed, and citizens need to fend for themselves for the first day or three.

Last weekend, I participated in an advanced CERT class on urban search and rescue. After a review of material from the basic class on first aid, splinting, etc., we received additional training on radio communications, breaking through barriers, securing victims to a board to carry them out of harm’s way, and systematically searching building interiors.

We then were put through our paces in two separate scenarios, in which we entered a dark building to find and rescue “victims” who were feigning various forms of injury, from leg wounds to complete unconsciousness. In order to get to some of them, we had to cut or break our way through sheetrock, screens, or other obstacles, or climb through windows, etc.

It was a lot of fun. But that’s not why I did it.

I did it because, when the Big One (or any other disaster hits), if I’m not a victim, I don’t want to just be a bystander.

I want to make sure my neighbors are safe, and to help them if I can. When the police and medical professionals do finally arrive, I want to be able to tell them the status of things in our area – who seems to be okay, and who needs their help the most.

Or, I want to be working in a shelter, where I can be tending to the needs of large numbers of people who need water, food, and a place to rest.

The last place I want to be is sitting at home, not knowing what’s happening around me, worrying, and wondering when the lights are going to come back on.

If being a rescuer rather than a bystander sounds good to you, then look up your local CERT organization, and sign up for the basic training. You don’t need to be particularly young or athletic. You don’t have to have medical or engineering knowledge. No matter your experience or abilities, there is a role you can play in CERT as a volunteer.

Be a rescuer, not a bystander.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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