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January 6, 2004 > Disaster Preparedness: Local Expert Aids Community.

Disaster Preparedness: Local Expert Aids Community.

by Praveena Raman

Jay Jamali was born in Abadan, Iran and grew up in Tehran. Large earthquakes with massive destruction and loss of life were a part of his life. Every 5 years or so there are major earthquakes in Iran. When in high school an earthquake resulted in 25,000 fatalities and during his college years, 10,000 people died in another. Now, another earthquake and more than 20,000 people have died. When these earthquakes occurred people who lived in the unaffected parts of Iran responded by raising funds and collecting blankets and other necessities that would help the victims but nobody then or now has prepared for future emergencies.

It was not growing up in an earthquake country where he had been exposed to massive destruction that led Jay to become a safety engineer to help people prepare for emergencies. An incident in college when Jay's friend was hurt and he could do nothing to help led him to decide to get training that would enable him to help people. At the time, Jay was in the United States, pursuing a degree in Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. After the incident, Jay transferred to the University of Utah where he received a Bachelor's in Safety Engineering and a Masters in Safety Management.

While in Utah he joined the Red Cross to learn First Aid. He later started teaching emergency response/preparedness courses and became an instructor for the program. He found that he enjoyed teaching especially when the instructions involved getting people prepared to help themselves during disasters. He also found that his chosen career combined the technical knowledge and expertise that he admired in his father, a Chemical Engineer, and the caring and helpful nature of his mother, a nurse.

After receiving a Master's degree, he moved to the Silicon Valley, first as a safety trainer for Phillips Semiconductor and then as a safety engineer at Analog Devices. At Analog Devices, Jay received a lot of experience in work related emergencies such as fire, spills, explosions and medical injuries. In 1988, Jay formed his own company, Enviro Safetech, with a focus primarily on emergency/hazmat response and then expanded to do some training as well. Over the years as the company matured, Jay started doing more training and less response.

Training ranges from sophisticated emergency response when a variety of hazardous materials are involved (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, U.S. Army) to simpler emergency response for smaller companies that want to prepare their employees for evacuations and disasters. Training contracts have also taken Jay internationally to England, Marshall Islands, Peru and other international sites.

During the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, one of Enviro Safetech's clients with a facility in Canoga Park, found that they could not get assistance from the fire department. The company contacted Jay. With a team of 12 people (8 from Enviro Safetech and 4 people who worked for another of his clients in San Luis Obispo), Jay went to Canoga Park to help. They cleaned Hazmat spills and treated the injured people. This was an eye opener for Jay and was great first-hand field experience of what happens right after a major earthquake. Jay said that it was amazing to see people "come out of the woodworks" to help in the search and rescue of injured people. These were all untrained volunteers who were trying to do and handle more than they had been trained to do.

He saw people use doors from damaged buildings as stretchers to bring the injured people to the camp that Enviro Safetech had set up for treatment and field surgery. People were camped out everywhere because they were afraid of the aftershocks. Jay himself experienced two very scary aftershocks. One was a 5.3 tremblor that came as he was cleaning up a cyanide spill. The aftershock threw the wad of cyanide two feet away from him and then it came back at him. It was then that Jay said, "you look down and hope you are properly suited up." The other aftershock, at 5.4 on the Richter scale, came when Jay was sleeping on his camp bed. This one threw him right out of the bed and he landed between two camp cots. It was also after this earthquake experience that Jay started keeping a pair of shoes next to his bed as he saw a lot of cut feet and people going into shock.

Jay and his family moved to Fremont five years ago. Soon after his move to Warm Springs he was introduced to the Fremont Fire Department's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. While going through the training he was able to share with the instructors and classmates his expertise and experience in Emergency Preparedness. After the training he was invited to join the CERT Support Services Team as a District Coordinator and a Trainer. Jay currently serves as the Warm Springs District Coordinator and a volunteer CERT instructor for the Fremont Fire Department teaching Disaster Medicine and Weapons of Mass Destruction classes. He also helps in conducting two annual drills in Fremont.

About Emergency Preparedness Jay says, "Human nature does not like to dwell on the negative and tends to blur trauma and pain as a coping mechanism. It is also human nature to feel that disasters happen to other people and not to us. This makes it difficult to get people prepare themselves for emergencies." Jay also feels that the CERT program which started in Los Angeles after the Northridge Earthquake and is now worldwide, is a great program that helps people prepare themselves personally and their neighborhoods for disasters. However he feels that the CERT program in Fremont is not as advanced as it should be. Jay's first priority as a Fremont resident and volunteer is to prepare his fellow neighbors and district residents to be better prepared for emergencies. He also feels that with recent budget problems in the City of Fremont, City preparedness and the CERT program will suffer as employees and volunteers will have to do more with less.

Speaking about Iran, Jay feels that it will be much harder to promote a CERT program there since besides the human nature factor there is also a high poverty level so people spend all their time trying to work 2 to 3 jobs to make ends meet. At the same time, if there were a right time, this would probably be the best time to start a program like CERT in Iran. Since Iranians are very community oriented, preparedness programs would have a better chance of starting in the neighborhoods by residents and the community. This is very different from the City of Fremont starting the CERT program and now going down to the neighborhoods and block level. Jay also mentioned that right after speaking with this TCV reporter he was appearing in the Abadama International T.V. to talk about Disaster Preparedness - before, during and after an Earthquake in Farsi.

To help his friends and family prepare themselves for emergencies Jay Jamali formed EHS Gear through which people can order field-tested environmental and health and safety equipment for home and the workplace. For more information visit

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