The recent Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013 and the explosion at the West (Texas) Fertilizer Plant on April 17, 2013 remind us of the vulnerability that exist in our communities to both large scale disasters as well as the potential for acts of violence perpetrated against civilians for political reasons. These two events, though different in their causes and characteristics, are alike in they tested the ability of communities to respond and render assistance, often before emergency medical personnel could engage. Typical response times in the U.S. after calling 9-1-1 vary but generally in metropolitan areas can be from 12-15 minutes. Add to that the mass causality nature of many disasters, and those injured often will not be seen quickly enough by emergency medical personnel.
In response to this need, communities are increasingly promoting Community Emergency Response Team training, known as CERT, and first proposed by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. CERT training is available nationwide as a means of building skills in civilians to act as a bridge before emergency workers arrive as well as assist responders in their work. It is likely that in Boston and possibly in West, TX, CERT volunteers immediately engaged in first aid, triage, and other basic actions to reduce immediate dangers, provide comfort and reassurance, and direct ambulance crews to the most needy.
Peacebuilding today incorporates a range of approaches many designed to alleviate suffering and respond to those who have been victimized by violence. Physical and mental trauma, as was the case in Boston, is an immediate reality. While we often think of peacebuilding humanitarian approaches in conflict zones such as in Haiti or parts of Africa, we have come to recognize that local communities in the U.S. can be subjected to the acts of violence of others. As such, preparing local communities to respond is a vital obligation of the peacebuilding community.
Community colleges, as the largest trainer of first responders, can play an important role in raising the profile of Community Emergency Response Team training programs. They are natural venues for bringing communities together to build resilience, promote physical and emotional healing, and train every day citizens in effective ways of humanitarian response. A number of community colleges around the U.S. offer CERT related training including Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College in WA, Monroe Community College in NY, Cape Fear Community College in NC, and Indian River State College in FL.