Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Getting Ready With CERTitude (Marin County)

Getting Ready With CERTitude

As locals continue efforts to seize momentum on emergency preparedness campaign, CERT classes are set for Oct. 8 and 15. Get Ready class set for Oct. 13

The City of Mill Valley’s fifth annual evacuation drill, this time in Scott Valley in May, garnered historically high participation from residents. A month later, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury gave Mill Valley a pat on the back for its emergency preparedness efforts that serve as a "blueprint which could be emulated countywide."

For Maggie Lang, a longtime local resident and the countywide coordinator for Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) classes, the events served as a catalyst to be seized upon.

“One of the Grand Jury report’s central tenets was that we’re going to be on our own in the event of a disaster because we don’t have enough public safety people living here in Marin,” Lang said. “Families really need to be able to take care of themselves, and we need to keep getting the word out about the resources available for people to know how to do that.”

“After that, it’s about neighbors helping neighbors,” she added.

Using the pneumonic that “the first 72 (hours) are on you,” CERT is at the heart of that drive. According to Marc Radest, a 42-year-old Sycamore Park resident, EMT and Marin Medical Reserve Corp member who took the CERT class in April, an ideal disaster plan would be to ensure that every neighborhood had a few people who have taken a CERT class and could serve as the point of contact for first responders in the event of a disaster.

“CERT makes the emergency services and fire department response more effective,” Radest said. “There are so many unknowns – who is elderly in the area, are there people who need prescription medication, things like that – that if the first responders had people to give them the details of that neighborhood when they arrive, it significantly changes their ability to respond clearly and quickly.”

The classes teach light search and rescue, basic disaster first aid and triage, small fire suppression and some disaster psychology. The program is funded through a $21,300 State Homeland Security grant awarded to the City of San Rafael’s Office of Emergency Services via the County of Marin to develop a countywide CERT training program called Marin County CERT.

The program kicked off in January and the shift to a countywide system instead of one operated by individual agencies allows any Marin resident to take any CERT class in the county.

Lang hopes that change reaches more people with busier schedules. Along with the neighborhood-specific push, Lang said she’s also hoping to get younger people into CERT classes, as the lion’s share of participants to date have been older people with the free time to accommodate the classes.

“We love their passion and involvement but we can’t have a response team that’s completely staffed with 70 and 80 year olds,” she said.

Lang said the unending challenge in Mill Valley is that despite the well-deserved accolades for developing a citywide emergency preparedness plan, “We’re still butting up against a wall of apathy and denial – that feeling of, ‘it’s never going to happen to me.’ But you get a good feeling from these classes – a sense of well being and a sense that you know how to take care of your family and neighbors if something happens.”

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