Disaster preparedness in spotlight

Newport Beach community members gathered mid-morning Tuesday to watch a live-stream of a White House event honoring a Newport Beach Fire Department employee for his disaster-preparedness efforts.

Matt Brisbois, a life safety specialist with the Fire Department, received the Champion of Change award along with 17 others from across the country at the Washington, D.C., ceremony. He was recognized for his work overseeing the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, program in Newport Beach over the past seven years.

CERT board member Karen Tringali also attended the ceremony.

About 40 CERT volunteers, clad in their signature green vests, convened in support of Brisbois about 10 a.m. at the Central Library. They were joined by about 15 Fire Department personnel, who wore their navy pants and shirts and stood along the room's back wall.

The two uniformed groups represent the city's dual-pronged approach toward emergency response.

In a community of almost 88,000 residents and a visitor population that can exceed 250,000, city personnel can't help direct everyone to safety in the event of an earthquake or storm, according to a Newport Beach CERT news release.

"Nobody ever thinks, 'What would I do in the state of an emergency?'" said volunteer Linda Daniels.

Under the leadership of Brisbois, more than 1,000 certified volunteers such as Daniels are available to contribute their training and efforts.

The Newport Beach CERT program, which began in 1999, offers education in areas such as first aid, survival training and HAM radio communication.

A core group of volunteers has worked with Brisbois to develop "events, programs and training opportunities that resulted in stronger, more resilient and adaptive volunteers who now feel empowered to affect change throughout the city," according to a White House release.

New courses are scheduled to start Tuesday night.

Charlene Prager said she completed the training out of concern for many of her elderly Jasmine Creek neighbors.

Whereas city officials might need to focus attention on "storied places," such as Fashion Island and the surrounding hotels, she said she knew the CERT program would prepare her to help those in her neighborhood.

"We are on our own, seriously, on our own," she said.

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