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February 18, 2009 > C.E.R.T. - The Instructor's Perspective

C.E.R.T. - The Instructor's Perspective

By Simon Wong

Steve Rogge is Union City Fire Department's only instructor for the City's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program and Personal Emergency Preparedness (PEP) classes.

He fulfils this role in addition to that of full-time engineer fire fighter. To do so has meant delivery of CERT training to the public only twice a year since it became available in 2001. Even more worrying, there has not been greater demand from the public for classes.

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 every 140 years, on average, and most of the East Bay is either on or close to it.

Currently, Union City has a population of 74,000, fourteen fire fighters and a dozen police officers on duty at any one time and only 120 CERT members. The "reflex time" for disaster aid to arrive is between three and seven days during which people will not have the support services and physical infrastructure that they take for granted.

"CERT is a program that teaches citizens how to care for themselves. Modules deal with how to make your house safer, first aid, basic search and rescue, how to use a fire extinguisher, utility controls, some disaster psychology, terrorist attacks and hazardous materials," he explained.

The training consists of four five-hour classes that are free to Union City residents and anyone who works or studies in Union City. Different training venues are available, including the workplace. Shorter classes can be arranged but there will be more of them to attend. The Federal requirement for CERT training is twenty hours.

On completing the training, students can choose to affiliate with Union City Fire Department. Registered affiliates can start work immediately in an emergency. They are covered by workers' compensation insurance if they are injured during a drill or working in a disaster and are also qualified to train others and deliver PEP classes. No commitment is required beyond the CERT classes which people can take for their own benefit and that of their families. "I would ask that people return for a refresher course each year because skills are perishable," advised Rogge.

Monthly CERT Meetings are for those who have already taken the CERT training. Team members learn how to teach CERT or refresh their knowledge even if they decide not to become instructors. The Meetings also facilitate familiarization; in a disaster, it helps immensely if CERT and emergency services personnel recognize each other.

In the midst of disaster, there are spontaneous volunteers but they must complete a separate training program before they are allowed to help. Such volunteers are more likely to sustain injury during their work and there are liability issues. The Fire Department advises people to join as affiliates.

Alameda County is also implementing a Disaster Services Worker Program that matches skills with a job bank to be able to deploy people effectively.

Ideally, Rogge would like to see ten percent of the City's population trained either for their own benefit or as members of a much larger Community Emergency Response Team. "CERT members do the 'simple and safe' things so that uniformed emergency personnel can concentrate on the more hazardous incidents," he explained. Effective outreach is needed. "The best ambassadors are group representatives who can inform their members and the community. In the past, the best recruiting advert was Hurricane Katrina," he said laconically.

Once the Hayward Fault moves, it will be too late for many. The challenge will be to survive the aftermath. CERT training and PEP increase the odds tremendously and help prevent people, who have taken the training, from becoming victims. Spontaneous volunteers will be from other parts of the country; few will be local.

Union City CERT also has an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) Group. ARES is part of the League of Amateur Radio Relay League's field organization; public events such as parades and bicycle races are ARES events. RACES is a state and local government auxiliary communications function for emergency preparedness and disaster response. Only licensed HAM radio operators may belong to the ARES/RACES Group.

ARES/RACES will be one of the few means of communication in a disaster. Cell phones and the 911 emergency response system will not work.

Don Safer is a member of ARES/RACES which is sponsored by Union City Police Department. He has been with CERT since its inception because of the opportunity to utilize his radio communications skills.

"People should take this course [CERT] for their own good but, more importantly, if they don't need help themselves they can look after others. Police and Fire will be overwhelmed. Help from organized CERT teams will also be limited given the low membership roll. Maybe we'll stand a chance of having enough resources to cope fairly well if most people can take care of themselves," said Safer.

"Take up of CERT training has been poor given how long the program has been around. Just as Katrina spurred people into action, regrettably, it will take something like a 4.5 - 5.0 quake on the Hayward Fault that takes down the grid and telephone systems without causing major damage to do the same in Union City. We might not have that luxury," he concluded.

For more information and class schedules in Union City, visit www.unioncityfire.org and click on C.E.R.T. or call Fire Admin on 510 675 5470 or email uc_cert@yahoo.com or infoucfd@ci.union-city.ca.us. For nationwide details, visit www.citizencorps.gov/cert. For details about the Hayward Fault, visit http://tinyurl.com/8s43k9



Spring CERT Classes

Four Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m., Fire Station #1 Training Center, 33555 Central Ave, Union City.

** Bring a bag lunch **

CERT classes are free of charge and open to anyone who lives, works, or goes to school in Union City. For students under age 18, a parent MUST accompany each student to the first class. Students aged 16 and 17 may attend after a parent has signed the required forms. Students under age 16 must have a parent attend the classes with them. CERT class qualifies for student community service hours.

Space is limited. You MUST sign up to reserve a seat. To sign up, send an email to uc_cert@yahoo.com.

CERT classes are taught by Union City Fire Department. We cover the full 20 hour national CERT curriculum in 4 Saturday classes. More information about Union City CERT can be found at www.unioncityfire.org (click on CERT).


Saturday April 25: Basic Preparedness with fire extinguisher practice. Earthquake awareness, Home, Family, Workplace Preparation, CERT Team Concepts, Utility Control: when & how to shut it off, Fire Extinguisher Practice.

Saturday May 2: Disaster Medicine with triage exercise. Recognize/treat life-threatening injuries, Care of Minor Injuries, Bandaging & Splinting, Triage: decide whom to treat and when.

Saturday May 9: Light Search and Rescue with search practice. Earthquake Effects on Buildings, Damage Recognition & Assessment, Search Techniques, Rescue Carries, Search & Rescue practice

Saturday May 16: Advanced Topics with lifting & cribbing practice. Disaster Psychology, Hazardous Materials & Terrorism Awareness, Incident Command System, Practice lifting heavy objects safely.

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