Although members of the Los Altos Hills County Fire District’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) signed up for the training to hone their emergency-preparedness skills, the 32 graduates of the 2014 course count growing more familiar with their neighbors as a benefit.
“It’s become not only a disaster-preparedness program, but also a social group,” said Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Sanders, who has been involved in training community volunteers since Los Altos Hills inaugurated the program.
With this year’s seventh graduating class, Los Altos Hills now boasts 1,300 residents trained in basic personal emergency preparedness and 235 CERT members – the town’s largest club, by Sanders’ count. Three of the Los Altos Hills City Council’s five members and three town staffers are CERT graduates.
When members graduate from the program, they are just beginning their training journey. Motivated by how crucial neighborhood response efforts can be in the wake of a crisis, some graduates take on substantial leadership roles by attending regional trainings, coordinating special programs and writing funding proposals for supplies. Even if volunteers are unable to dedicate significant time to follow-up classes, Sanders emphasizes the importance of keeping skills fresh by participating in periodic drills so that CERT members continue to perform as a team during a real emergency.
“If you don’t attend the drills, you don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
To test the skills of CERT members, the town’s Emergency Communications Committee and other personnel, a citywide drill is scheduled 3-7 p.m. May 14. Facing several dozen possible challenges after an earthquake, tsunami or man-made disaster, participants will be called on to canvass neighborhoods, facilitate communications among entities and problem-solve hypothetical scenarios quickly.
Local residents who are not CERT members are invited to stop by town hall to observe operations during the drill.
Building on lessons learned from previous drills, CERT members who are trained to use ham radios will be dispatched to the field with volunteers during the drill to increase communications speed. Volunteers also designed a wiki page to enable Los Altos Hills CERT members to gather resources and share information.
Although the next Los Altos Hills County Fire District CERT training is not scheduled until next spring, local residents can find additional information on emergency preparedness efforts at lahcfd.org/emergency-preparedness.