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January 4, 2005 > Are You Prepared?

Are You Prepared?

Fremont Fire Department revitalizes CERT

by Praveena Raman

The Fremont Fire Department will be presenting information about its new Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program and the Personal Emergency Preparedness Program to all former CERT trained community members and any one wishing to learn more about disaster preparedness in Fremont on Monday January 17 and Tuesday January 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Washington Hospital West (former Capwell's Building).

In the past week the devastation in South East Asia caused by a powerful 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the ensuing Tsunami has been the topic of conversation and in everybody's minds locally, nationally and around the world. As the affected areas are trying to recover from the calamity caused by nature, one thing glaringly apparent is that an infrastructure necessary for a fast recovery is not in place. The affected communities have not been trained to respond to the effects of a disaster.

How about the Tri-Cities? Tsunamis can occur in the Pacific Ocean and the California Coast is vulnerable. Our immediate area might not be directly hit by a Tsunami but we are definitely vulnerable to a major earthquake. A report released in 2003 mentions a 62% probability of an earthquake with a magnitude greater that 6.7 occurring in the Bay Area in the next 30 years with a 27% probability of it being on the Hayward fault.

After the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, the Los Angeles Fire Department realized the need to train and prepare the community for major disasters. In the aftermath of that earthquake, a large number of untrained volunteers assisted in rescue operations often at significant risk to themselves yet these noble efforts at times hampered professional rescue attempts. Realizing the potential of these volunteers and to help in the formation of a strong infrastructure to reduce loss of life during a disaster, the Los Angeles Fire Department established the Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) in 1994. Now an international program with curriculum directed by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), CERT programs have been embraced by most of the United States.

The Fremont Fire Department established a CERT program in 1995 and has been working with trained community volunteers to get residents prepared for earthquakes and other disasters. Initially when the 18 hour training program first started, it was rotated among the various districts, Ardenwood, Niles, Centerville, Irvington, Mission San Jose and Warm Springs. At any given time, 20 to 30 community members were trained together with residents from their own neighborhood. There was no central training place and volunteer trainers and fire department personnel led a nomadic life moving their equipment from place to place.

As the program became established, residents saw the value of training and classes were filled; people had to sign up a year in advance to go through the training. In the late nineties, the Fire Department finally found a central place in the old city government building to conduct CERT trainings. In the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster, there was a dramatic increase in the enrollment in the CERT classes with class sizes reaching approximately 100 students. A year later, the enrollment started dropping and averaged about 30 students per session.

During these years the department also found that even though they had about 3000 people trained to help in disasters (a small number compared to the size of the population), not many attended drills and helped prepare their neighborhoods for disasters. The number of people taking the full training course dropped considerably due to the commitment of 18 hours for CERT training. In response, the Fremont Fire Department established a three hour Personal Emergency Preparedness (PEP) program that debuted in 2004.

Personal Emergency Preparedness Program (PEP)

The three hour PEP training is based on the FEMA curriculum. Volunteers who are trained CERT instructors teach the skills and preparation residents need to know to take care of themselves and their families in a disaster. The curriculum covers information about earthquakes and disasters, utility shutoff, hazardous materials, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and shelter-in-place. Residents learn how to strap water heaters and big objects in their homes, how to minimize flying objects during an earthquake by securing small artifacts and placing things in a manner to reduce injuries.

People are trained to view rooms in their homes and in places they visit with "Earthquake Eyes." They learn where utility shut-offs are located, how and when to shut them off and how to detect whether there is a gas leak. Information about fire extinguishers and their use is given and also information about hazardous materials and their safe placement and disposal. Installing and maintaining smoke detectors is also covered.

The concept of shelter-in-place is taught which means to stay indoors -- in homes, schools, businesses, or public buildings - taking additional precautions such as turning off air conditioners and ventilation systems and closing all windows and doors. This technique is valuable when there is little time to react to an incident (often chemical or biological) and it would be more dangerous to be outside.

FEMA has produced a valuable guide titled, Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness. This guide is available free from FEMA or can be downloaded from the FEMA website -
Copies are also available through the FEMA Publications warehouse ((800) 480-2520), FEMA publication H-34.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

With the reduction of staff and the decrease in funding, the Fremont Fire Department had to make changes in the way CERT training was delivered to the community. Understanding the strength and importance of CERT, it was saved from removal by budget cuts. Three Fire Fighters, Captain Paul Vistica, Captain Alan Baxter and Fire Fighter Sergio Morariu, have assumed administration of the program, all involved in the program from its conception in 1995. Working with dedicated volunteers, who have also been with the program since its start, Sergio revamped the eighteen hour training program.

The new program makes use of the interactive online web based course produced by FEMA ( and also incorporates hands-on training at CERT Central on Liberty Street. FEMA's online course is an independent study program with six modules: Introduction to CERT, Fire Safety, Hazardous Material and Terrorist Incidents, Disaster Medical Operations, and Search and Rescue. It takes between six and eight hours to complete the course and those successfully finishing it will receive a certification of completion and .8 CEU's from the Independent Study Office. However, this only finishes the theory part of the course. Once completed, residents need to go through a hands-on phase to complete their training.

The hands-on-training will be conducted in classes of 20 students rotating between the districts. Presently residents from two districts will be going through the training at the same time. The class size and restriction to districts will enable trainers provide their undivided attention help trainees to interact with their neighbors.

These five sessions cover assessment of damages, operating outside buildings, triage, fire fighting, utility control, search and rescue techniques, leadership roles and responsibilities, communication and practice scenarios in the districts.

The Fire Department will continue its two annual city-wide drills, a district drill in April and the CERT Olympics and picnic in October for all CERT.

CERT and PEP city-wide meetings are scheduled for Monday January 17 and Tuesday January 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Washington Hospital West (former Capwell's Building). These meetings will explain changes to the program, boundaries, leadership, training, expectation and give previous CERT members information about how to remain active.

Call the Fremont Fire Department at (510) 494-4243 (Public Education Information); (510) 494-4244 (Public Education Registration) or (510) 494-4245 (CERT Hotline).

All residents are encouraged to attend training sessions -- no special skills are required. For enrollment or questions about the program, please leave a message on the CERT hotline at 793-1400, ext. 530.

Union City:
If you are interested in becoming a CERT member, call (510) 675-5470 or fax to (510) 487-2117. Please include your name, phone number, address for all interested parties and the number of people interested in participating.

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