Disaster preparedness discussed

With the threat of the “next big one” looming overhead, Crescenta Valley residents made a strong showing at Monday night’s C.E.R.T. town hall meeting held at CV High School’s MacDonald Auditorium.

C.E.R.T., which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, is a nationwide organization that was started in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department. The program is endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy as a way to prepare citizens for a variety of disasters.

According to CV C.E.R.T. organizer Paul Dutton, the audience of 200-plus attendees at Monday night’s meeting was a good way to get out the message to local citizens on the importance of being self-reliant following a disaster.

“The primary goal was to let people know that they may be on their own for up to three days after an emergency,” Dutton said.

Dutton’s wife, Lisa, who is also C.E.R.T. trained, concurred. “People in the community take for granted that emergency personnel will be ready to respond [to residential needs],” she said. “People have to first take care of themselves because there is a high probability that no [emergency personnel] will be available for the first 72 hours following a disaster.”

This point was reiterated throughout the two hour meeting by the numerous safety agencies speaking at the meeting. These included representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, county and Glendale fire departments, the Red Cross, the Office of Emergency Management, Southern California Gas Co. and the Crescenta Valley Water District.

Sgt. Randy Sulstrom of the CV Sheriff’s Station outlined the procedure his department will undertake following a major disaster. Emergency personnel are duty-bound to respond to other areas, including schools, before individual residences. Sulstrom said that over 100 places will take priority before individual residences.

On the heels of this sobering information was a presentation by the gas company. Andy Carrasco, public affairs officer for the company, instructed the audience not to immediately shut off gas at their home.

Carrasco said that unless residents hear the hissing of gas being released or smell a gas leak, they should leave their gas lines alone.

It is estimated that after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, 150,000 people shut off their home gas supply. Of those, about 130,000 didn’t need to, according to Dutton. This inconvenience was coupled by a loss of power that lasted up to nine days for some people. “It just wasn’t necessary,” he said.

In addition to providing initial information to residents, the goal of the town hall meeting was to get people to sign up for C.E.R.T. classes. The next open session is March 29. The classes take place over a week’s time, and by the end of the session residents are educated on how to be 100% self-reliant after a disaster. Training is free and will get people prepared ahead of time, according to Dutton.

C.E.R.T. classes help people establish a family emergency plan and instruct people on emergency disaster medical triage, fire suppression and fundamental urban search and rescue.

According to Joyce Harris of the Office of Emergency Management, there are 10 million people in the county of Los Angeles, an indeterminate amount who may need help following a disaster. “Now is the time to prepare,” she said.

For more information on C.E.R.T., call Paul and Lisa Dutton at (818) 249-8378.

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