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February 4, 2009 > Union City C.E.R.T. - A Citizen's Perspective

Union City C.E.R.T. - A Citizen's Perspective

By Simon Wong

Just over three years ago, Caroline Pashon had a rude awakening. On vacation with her mother-in-law and two young children, her mother-in-law suffered a massive heart attack in their hotel room. Caroline, alone with her children, did not know what to do.

The tragedy is that she had known Union City fire fighter Steve Rogge for about seventeen years and was aware of the City's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program and Personal Emergency Preparedness (PEP) classes. Rogge is the Fire Department's only CERT instructor. Pashon resolved never to be in such a situation again, took the training, remained involved with the Program and recently became Union City's CERT Volunteer Coordinator. She also has peace of mind that her son can look after himself and those around him when an emergency or disaster strikes. He, too, is trained.

October 21, 2008, was the 140th anniversary of the 1868 Great San Francisco Earthquake. The latter was caused by movement of the Hayward Fault. The significance is that geologists estimate that the Hayward Fault moves significantly resulting in a major earthquake every 140 years, on average, and most of the East Bay is either on or close to it.

"At this stage, CERT is not where it should be, said Ms Pashon. "One of our main goals for 2009, with the Fire Chief on board, is to see what needs to be done."

Development of effective outreach strategies to raise public awareness of what will happen when the earthquake strikes, of the necessity for CERT training and PEP and of the need for more trained volunteers is a race against time.

"People are accustomed to summoning help when they need it but it will unavailable when the earthquake happens. Nor does the public know the numbers involved. Union City has a population of 74,000, fourteen fire fighters on duty at any one time and only 120 CERT members," explained the Volunteer Coordinator.

Although distribution of information at community events does generate some interest, it is not enough to make the community self-reliant, so a different approach has been adopted.

At January's CERT Meeting, CERT joined forces with COPPS to link in with the City's Neighborhood Watch Groups. The rationale is to establish relationships with group representatives who can then inform their members. Churches, day-care centers, home owners' associations, boy scouts and the schools are ideal.

"There is nothing wrong with working on a snack bar at baseball games but high school students can take CERT training for community service instead. It has social value. The skills you learn are portable. A thousand kids graduate each year from Logan," stated Caroline Pashon. "People should realize that their neighbors, or those around them, will be the ones taking care of them and vice versa. The instinct is to rush to the aid of your family but if roads are impassable, then it's better to know that they can look after themselves and remain where you are to care for those in your immediate vicinity until you can leave. Many people will need help"

Pashon and her CERT colleagues are disturbed by the findings of the November 2008 Great Southern California Shakeout Drill in Los Angeles which has planned extensively for a disaster in that region. First, Union City must develop an official disaster preparedness, management and recovery plan. Second, utilities such as running water may not be restored for six months; electricity may not be available for ten days. LA estimates that half the deaths would be caused by fire because of the lack of water. Surviving the aftermath of the earthquake is the issue.

Planning and preparation are essential. Typically, people have no reserves in their homes or vehicles. Of course, the best laid plans could come to nought but having something in place is better than nothing. People should prepare for the worst and tailor their readiness to their needs. Babies require formula; some households have pets or elderly family members; personal medication must be considered. CERT classes teach survival. Attendees will be given all the required information.

In the past, CERT courses have been held twice a year. Qualified CERT members meet monthly for discussion and some refresher training. There have been field trips to other events at Washington Hospital or in Fremont. The goal is to train as many people for CERT which means holding classes more often. Ideally, groups and organizations will provide enough people to make this possible. CERT members can train others though only a few do so. Increasing the size of the organization will provide more instructors to prepare the community.

"Steve Rogge cannot train Union City single-handedly. We all need to step forward. I have noticed more of the existing CERT volunteers make suggestions and offer to teach different parts of the courses. This is a start," noted Ms Pashon.

Washington Hospital has generously put the Nakamura Clinic, Alvarado-Niles Road, at CERT's disposal as a training venue. The training room at Fire Station 1 will also be used. It is important for the fire fighters and CERT volunteers to get to know each other since CERT members will assist first-line, uniformed personnel and for volunteers to familiarize themselves with the site. Fire Station 1 will be the assembly point for CERT members.

When a disaster strikes, if CERT members are away from the jurisdictions in which they trained, they must be sworn in before being able to assist wherever they happen to be at the time. It is recommended that all CERT members should make themselves known to local Teams in advance. Typically, people who can do this are those who spend most of the working day in another city.

For more information and class schedules in Union City, visit and click on C.E.R.T. or call Fire Admin on 510 675 5470 or email For nationwide details, visit

For details about the Hayward Fault, visit

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