Waiting for the other shoe to drop


To say that Dr. Mel Baughman is prepared for the worst is a major understatement.

It’s hard to think of any emergency situation in which a reasonable person wouldn’t put his or her life in Baughman’s hands. He is calm, smart, well-organized, foresighted and, oh yes, a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainer.

Baughman, a Falcon Heights resident who is originally from Ohio, has B.S. and M.S. degrees from Michigan State and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He is currently assistant dean and extension forester in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

But he has always been interested in preparedness, from his days as a Boy Scout to years of wilderness canoeing in Canada, the Arctic Ocean and Alaska.

During those extended trips in remote areas, he needed to be ready to deal with emergencies of all sorts, learning wilderness medicine and creative ways of using any resources at hand, as well as careful planning and packing.

This preparedness mindset made him a good candidate to take CERT training. This program was first developed in Los Angeles in 1985 as a way to prepare civilians for dealing with natural disasters such as earthquakes when the normal first-responders (such as firemen or paramedics) were unable to reach victims quickly.

The Mexico City earthquake highlighted the need for emergency preparedness. Though over 800 people were saved by volunteers during that disaster, another 100 died trying to help. CERT is now a national program under the auspices of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Communities, including Falcon Heights, in 28 states and Puerto Rico have conducted training sessions.

By its own definition, “CERT is about readiness, people helping people, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. CERT is a positive and realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where citizens will be initially on their own and their actions can make a difference. Through training, citizens can manage utilities and put out small fires; treat the three killers by opening airways, controlling bleeding, and treating for shock; provide basic medical aid; search for and rescue victims safely, and organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective.”

In eight weeks of intense training, Baughman learned about disaster preparedness (identifying possible neighborhood hazards and learning safe and effective ways of helping family members and neighbors), fire suppression, medical operations, light search and rescue techniques, disaster psychology, terrorism and team organization. Following another three days of instructor training, he was qualified to teach others.

In Falcon Heights, over 60 volunteers are CERT members. Recently the city has been conducting monthly workshops where Baughman, other CERT trainers and county officials teach community members about new emergency response techniques.

The March 20 meeting was about how to deal with a pandemic flu, the one on April 27 was about evacuation, and on May 4 they will discuss communication. All meetings are at Falcon Heights City Hall from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Another basic training session for Falcon Heights CERT volun-teers runs from September 21 to November 9 and requires a commitment of three hours every Thursday night during that period.

Baughman himself has done an extraordinary amount of preparation for possible emergency situations, whether pandemic flu, tornado, earthquake, chemical spill or terrorism attack. A room in his basement would function as a tornado shelter and is stocked with enough supplies to last him and his wife for an extended stay.

He has also prepared his van and cabin with emergency supplies, including food for six weeks, medical supplies, batteries, a radio, gasoline, a manual can opener, plus important medical and legal information.

Baughman’s thoroughness is evidenced in the handouts he prepares for community workshops. They include plans for sheltering in your home, escaping from your house, evacuating the city and finding one another if separated. His documents are more comprehensive than those typically posted on government disaster preparedness sites.

A list of food and supplies for emergencies, as well as what information and documents should be accessible, is posted on the Falcon Heights Web site: www.ci.falcon-heights.mn.us.

No one wants to think about the possibility of a disaster close to home, but as Baughman shows, being prepared can certainly give one peace of mind.