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January 27, 2010 > CERT's inaugural meeting

CERT's inaugural meeting

By Shavon Walker

Union City's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) convened its first meeting on January 18 as an official organization with bylaws, under Council. Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez spoke about the earthquake in Haiti as a sober reminder of why everyone was present.

"A 7.0 on the Hayward Fault would be absolutely devastating," he said. "You must be self-sufficient and you have to take care of each other. We need to keep CERT alive, no matter what. The effectiveness of Union City's CERT relies heavily on attracting new members."

The CERT concept was originally created by Frank W. Borden, former assistant Fire Chief for the Los Angeles City Fire Department. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the need for trained volunteers to be able to help each other and the public at large became a priority. In addition, when Borden saw the community response to the Kobe earthquake in Japan, he realized that local people, as well as the government, needed to be prepared for emergencies in order to increase the odds of survival.

CERT became a national program when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Fire Academy, and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) created a set of standards and guidelines. These would allow anyone who wished to train as local CERT members to do so under the guidance of professionals and experts. FEMA is no longer in charge of the national program; that responsibility has moved to the Department of Homeland Security. CERT training would equip volunteers to handle specific types of emergencies, such as CPR and search and rescue, while emergency professionals dealt with fires, floods and other side effects of a disaster.

Union City CERT was created in May 2001 and a request for formal recognition of its status was made on October 27, 2009. On November 10, 2009, CERT was adopted as an official volunteer force for Union City with designated by-laws. Copies were distributed to volunteers with the organizational chart.

Volunteers' skills range from ham radio operation to first-responder training to search and rescue. Councilwoman Carol Dutra-Vernaci was unanimously elected as CERT Coordinator. She was involved with Fremont CERT in 1996 and 1997 and took additional classes in Union City. As a council member, Dutra-Vernaci will recuse herself from voting on CERT-related matters at Council meetings.

The CERT Board consists of Scott Stevens (secretary and treasurer), Bill Fournell (planning), Jim Rothman (training) and Frank Marseglia (logistics). Marseglia stated that sharing information was extremely important at this point of development.

"Our goal is to make sure that 100 percent of the population knows what CERT is," he said.

Other items discussed include the need for bilingual volunteers. Even though there is a CERT in every city, volunteers do not have to live in Union City to be a part of its CERT. There is no fee to join.

Union City CERT will receive funding from the city but it is essential that the organization be well-managed by its newly-elected officers and that its ranks swell for it to be a viable, self-reliant entity. Hitherto, CERT relied on Union City Fire Department (UCFD) for its training and support. Given that UCFD might merge with the Alameda County Fire Department, there will not be a local fire agency to provide what Union City CERT needs. The County promotes CERT membership and training through its public outreach but lacks the manpower to provide CERT-support. The latter would prove expensive for a municipality to purchase from the County.

The next CERT meeting will be a potluck on February 20, 2010 in the training center at Fire Station No. 1.

For more information about Union City CERT, visit www.unioncity.org/fire/cert.html or call Fire Administration on (510) 675-5470.

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