LA CRESCENTA — Be prepared. That was the message delivered Monday night to the more than 200 residents and public safety officials at a public forum about emergency preparedness at the Crescenta Valley High School auditorium.
The gathering was noteworthy in itself, speakers said, judging by the number of residents who turned up for the series of presentations on Community Emergency Response Teams and what ordinary citizens can do to assist police and fire first responders in the event of a large scale disaster.
“In Los Angeles County right now, I’m not aware that there is a group of people this large talking about earthquake and disaster preparedness,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Scott Polgar said.
And the issue has taken on even more urgency in recent weeks, with sizable earthquakes hitting northeastern Nevada and Baja California, said Paul Dutton, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s volunteer and Crescenta Valley response team coordinator.
“What [a Community Emergency Response Team] tries to show is that you have to prepare ahead of time,” he said. “Not after the big one hits.”
The notion of community response teams picked up steam in Southern California after the 1994 Northridge earthquakes, which sparked 110 fires in the Los Angeles area and about 9,000 injuries, Dutton said.
During catastrophic events like earthquakes, the resources of law enforcement and fire agencies are spread thin, so residents should develop survival skills to help themselves and their neighbors before assistance arrives, he said.
“Most of us need to understand that we may very well be on our own for three to five days,” Dutton said. “That’s our message that we want to get across tonight is that you could be on your own.”
Community response team training teaches participants to prepare themselves by storing food and water and keep temporary shelters on hand, Dutton said. Training also exposes participants to basic first-response knowledge like first aid and medical triage, he added.
Residents with these types of emergency preparedness skills can be indispensable to first responders in a crisis situation, Glendale Fire Department Deputy Chief Harold Scoggins said.
“In the city of Glendale we think that we’re prepared,” Scoggins said. “But the reality is that if an earthquake comes, it’s going to tax the resources so that we’re not going to be able to respond to the day-to-day emergencies.”
Community Emergency Response Teams are a national movement that recently hit a milestone in California with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Citizen Core Initiative and the launching of an Agency of Service of Volunteerism, which is the equivalent of a cabinet position for volunteers, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Wilson Lee, who is the head Community Emergency Response Teams coordinator for the county.
“It gives all of us one common direction, one common goal and hopefully some clout at the state level,” he said.
The Crescenta Valley emergency response team will be holding five training classes between Saturday and March 8. Participants must complete all classes in order to become certified as Community Emergency Response Teams members.
For more information on class times, contact Paul or Lisa Dutton at (818) 249-8378 or Sheriff’s Deputy Jorge Valdivia at (818) 248-3464.