If a major disaster hits Los Angeles it is crucial you know how to respond with a disaster plan. The LAFD offers a free program to prepare you for the next big one. It’s called CERT. The Community Emergency Response Team.
Whether it’s earthquakes, wildfires, floods, or a terrorist attack, it could be a matter of life or death with seconds hanging the balance. By joining CERT you’ll learn how to jump into action to help your family, neighbors, or co-workers in times of catastrophe. Watch as team members show us this incredible program.
Disaster Plan: Training for survival
Having a disaster plan is key for survival during a major emergency. A catastrophe can strike at any moment and when it happens you need the right number of supplies, food and water for your family and pets. You’ll need to know how to turn off your gas and electric and put out small fires, first aid and much more. CERT classes help you prepare for an emergency.
Plus, if you want to advance, you can be a hero to our heroes. With extra classes, you’ll be certified to work with the LAFD as a call-out team member.
LAFD Captain II and task force commander Rico Gross says, “We know wildfires happen in California predominantly throughout the entire year…We have the hillsides, the mountainous area, obviously the Griffith Observatory, and what we call the wildland-urban interface, or WUI. We have more people day by day living closer to playing, hiking and others in those areas. Unfortunately, even with the rains we have, those areas with even light wind dry quickly. And, with those, humidity starts dropping down low, the winds start picking up, and we are prone to fire behavior. We want to make sure the people, Los Angelinos, have the preparation, have a plan, have the wherewithal and the knowledge of the environment that’s throughout this California area.”
If a disaster strikes, the LAFD makes it very clear there won’t be enough first responders to go around to help its citizens.
LAFD Captain I Dustin Gates, who serves as the CERT program manager, says there are significant lessons you can learn from the course when developing a disaster plan.
“The lesson from CERT class is everybody can make a difference. Honestly, we want everybody in the city of Los Angeles, and nationwide, to take the CERT class because it teaches you basic preparedness. It can teach you how to work in a team, after a major disaster, come together in the community and survive. Because the fact is, there isn’t enough emergency service workers throughout the county to help everybody. We have to rely on our citizens who are trained in CERT to really step it up and help us assess the damage and take care of themselves.”
To ensure that the Los Angeles population of about 4 million people has the best possible chance of surviving a disaster and thriving afterward, the LAFD trains residents to be prepared for disaster.
Disaster preparedness and CERT: Who can join?
Anyone in good health and with a sense of community can become a part of CERT. If you become a CERT member, you will learn about making a disaster plan and important life-safety support techniques. But you will not be expected to place yourself in dangerous situations ever, either in the training or when a disaster strikes.
Chin Thammasaengsri is the LAFD CERT South Bureau coordinator who is a part of the specialized CERT call-out team, spells it out this way:
“What does it take to become a CERT? It really doesn’t take a lot, it just takes the will to be a part of the program, and it also takes the dedication to sit down and sit through the 17 and a half-hours of training. A lot of people come up to me in the community and say “I’d love to do what you do. But, I have bad knees, I have diabetes, I can’t hear, I’m old.” And I tell them that there’s a seat at the CERT table for you. There’s a position for you wherever you want to be. All you have to do is come in and take this program. Finish it and get your certificate of completion. And you can find out where you want to be. For me, I found I enjoy working the neighborhood operations with my neighborhood teams.”
Disaster Plan: The CERT basic training course for disaster preparedness
The CERT course includes the following:
- Learning to suppress small fires
- Basic first aid, including ABC treatment, treatment for shock, and related techniques
- Evacuation tactics and how to collaborate with city agencies to support neighborhood exits
- Search tactics
- Communications, including the use of radios
Most importantly, if you become a CERT member, you have to have the ability to spontaneously organize and immediately activate in the event of a major disaster. According to the LAFD, If there is a significant earthquake, phones and other communications channels may be interrupted. CERT members will know where to go, how to organize their efforts, and will get to work without any specific order being issued.
A CERT member’s first responsibility is to his or herself, then his or her family, and finally his or her community.
LAFD CERT is comprised of dedicated volunteers who have not only completed the CERT 17 and a half-hour training, but also have shown the dedication and ability to go further in their training. There are several steps to qualify for LAFD CERT. After passing all qualifications, LAFD CERT members are allowed to wear LAFD CERT uniform, and can participate in deployments.
CERT members will not self-dispatch to any incident. Only LAFD CERT members that are requested by the LAFD may respond. LAFD ALERT messages (email, Twitter, radio, etc.) are not official instructions or authorization to take action, according to the LAFD.
The CERT call-out team experience
When it comes to disaster preparedness Rico says CERT call-out team member Chin Thammasaengsri is on a, “whole other level. He represents one of our bureau coordinators. Very similar to Los Angeles City Fire Department, LAFD, we’re broken down into four geographic bureaus…He has responsibility for disseminating all current activity. He has the responsibility of developing our CERT call-out schedule. So, each week, he takes the 40 to 200 members, organizes them in such a fashion that if we were to get a large-scale emergency, a fire patrol, even a community awareness event, he would supply us with the personnel to do that. And when I say personnel it’s people who are volunteering their time and support Los Angeles.”
Chin says his experience with CERT has been a wonderful one, “I’ve been with the team about eight years, I started off taking the basic class which is 17 and one-half hours of training. And I became involved with my neighborhood team and on from there I became involved with the LAFD CERT Call-Out Team. And that’s where I am right now. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
“The recent incidents I’ve been a part of, the Sylmar Fire I believe that was 2018. I’ve been a part of the Skirball Fire, been a part of the Sepulveda Fire, and a few fires here and there, so it’s been a number of incidents over the years. And, a lot of smaller incidents that we cover as part of the L.A. CERT call-out team. Both of those fires happened near that 405 corridor and we worked both of them.”
CERT: Don’t become a victim
There’s one thing you don’t want to do says Chin, “Among all the things you are taught to do, fire suppression, size up and everything. You’re really taking a look at the situation so you don’t become a victim… I said there might be a situation down from my home, I’m going to go down there and take a look. And see if that’s a situation I should be a part of or not be a part of. If there are other people, I determine that shouldn’t be a part of it, try and bring them out of that area…. Again, the idea is not to become a victim. And what we say in CERT, we won’t bring victims into an incident, that reminds us that we’re taking a look at a situation, we don’t get ahead of ourselves. So that kernel of learning came from the fathers who created this program came from their observations of what happened in other earthquakes such as Mexico City.
Where you had a group of men who wanted to do a good thing, and help some people in a building, and they ran in that building, but the building collapsed around them. Because that’s tragedy right there. So, I will tell you the biggest piece of learning, learning how to safeguard yourself.”
Scott Boyett is also on the CERT call-out with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. He’s a medic and team leader, he sums up what it’s like to be on CERT:
“There’s a couple of things, I think the main one is, especially as a call-out member, we are representing the fire department. Even as we are volunteers, we are CERT, we are not firefighters. We are still a professional organization. We wear our uniforms. Make sure everything is squared away. So having that mentality of even though we are not paid, we are professionals, we wouldn’t do anything a firefighter wouldn’t do, or vice versa. We follow their lead and being professional and just being helpful whenever we can.”
What do CERT members do?
CERT members participate in activities to help with important community outreach, such as:
- Specialized trainings
- Parades & special events
- Community disaster fairs
CERT Team deployments for LAFD support and assistance include:
- LAFD logistical support
- Community fire patrols
- Fire station events
- Firefighter rehab/hydration
- Much more!
By Charles Stewart