You’re in an eerily quiet room. The only thing that you can make out is an oppressive fog, and the occasional flicker of jolting light through the density of the darkness. Your futile attempts to push the fog away from your face are met with yet more fog, the second haze seemingly thicker than the last. As you reach out, your hands meet the rugged surface of a stone wall. You take a step forward, then another step, clinging desperately to the wall as your only source of security. Then, as you slowly shuffle, you hear a voice pierce the silence.

“Help! Is someone there?”

You freeze, and turn toward the direction of the noise.

“My baby’s hurt, and I can’t move my leg. Please, if you’re there, help!”

You can’t see any better than before, and the sparking lights may indicate live wires. If you act carelessly, you will not only hurt yourself, but also those who you are trying to help. What do you do?

Community Emergency Response Teams: be prepared

This was the scenario in which I, at the tender age of 15, found myself. However, there was no danger involved. The fog was machine-produced, the lights were from flashing phones, and the parent in the darkness was a paid actor with a doll.

This was the final stage of my certification for a Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) course, in which participants learned how to act as first responders to the sites of natural disasters. CERT courses consist of weekly classes with a semester-end practicum (much like the one described above) and teach skills such as first response protocol, triage, first aid, and other skills necessary when natural disaster strikes.

This may sound fancy and inaccessible. However, for the readiness-minded homeschooling family, integrating this sort of course into a student’s curriculum is quite simple. It will give your student practical skills that will serve them for a lifetime. And—when the unthinkable happens—it might even save lives.

Emergencies and home education

First-responder training certainly is not your run-of-the-mill classroom subject. However, this does not mean that we should count CERT training out of our curriculum for the year. (After all, creativity is a homeschooler’s strength!)

Our instructors held the weekly CERT classes for three hours on a Saturday. While highly technical—and, at times, mind-numbingly banal for my 15-year-old self—this meant that the class technically fulfilled the hour requirement for a three-credit course. Hence, in addition to giving my high school transcript a nice, shiny certification section, my mom could list the course as a first aid/medical studies class. (This could just as easily be listed as an elective studies course.)

Different states, of course, may elect to hold their classes on weekdays, or even spread the three weekly hours out across one-hour periods. While public- or private-schooled students may find this training infeasible as a result, the flexibility offered by homeschooling makes this sort of scheduling much easier.

Crisis and character

During the training process, participants in my class received several manuals on a variety of topics: triage procedure, the first-aid process, chemical code guides, and information on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) all come to mind. These purported to give readers all necessary information to become effective first responders.

I barely remember the contents of the first pages.

This isn’t to say that the CERT course didn’t contain any valuable lessons. It did; these lessons, however, weren’t found in the manuals. Rather, they were character lessons that matured my 15-year-old self as a person.

In one particular simulation, my dad and I were tasked with saving a mother and infant from a disaster site littered with “live” wires.

My dad’s instinct was to save the mother first, because she was closer in proximity to us. However, I reminded my dad that triage protocol mandated saving infants and children first, if the situation is dangerous. We proceeded to secure the infant, then take care of the mother.

This scenario did two things for me. First, it forced me to think quickly on my feet, and recall protocol under pressure. As a first responder, the situations that you face call for a clear head, sound reasoning, split-second decision making, and a strict adherence to protocol. The instructor commended my decision-making during our group’s post-simulation debrief, and the importance of these character qualities have stuck with me ever since (I may have gloated a little bit).

Second—and perhaps more importantly—this practicum forced my parents and I into the same scenario, where we had to collaborate to accomplish a specific objective. This brought us closer, because we were learning an important skillset together. Even if I never face a situation that requires triage or search-and-rescue, I grew and matured as a result of my CERT training.

Triage and trial

But, what if you DO face a situation in which you need to undertake a search-and-rescue mission? Many don’t think that they will ever face a natural disaster. But, as the recent hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have taught us, anything can happen.

The search and triage protocol is specific for a reason: actions undertaken with the right motivation, but lack of training, can end up hurting both the victim and rescuer. For these circumstances, I cannot stress enough how important proper training and education will prove. Not only will you protect yourself, but when disaster hits, you might be the one upon whom your loved ones depend.

Don’t delay. To find a CERT training course in your area, go to


Photo Credit: iStock.