CITY YARDS — One by one, a second class of Santa Monica residents walked through a gauntlet of instructors from the fire and police departments, shaking hands and accepting a certificate of completion to the imaginary strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
The graduation ceremony for Santa Monica’s second Community Emergency Response Team was rapid and efficient, similar to the training that each of the 26 individuals had received over the past three Saturdays at the City Yards.
Much of it applies to the everyday life disasters like kitchen fires, water line breaks or minor home injuries. The rest painted a sobering picture of the reality that will face Santa Monica and Southern California in the event of a major catastrophe, the kind of thing people try to push to the back of their minds, comfortably shelved behind more acceptable stresses of life.
After accepting the certificate and green backpack of disaster goodies, there were 50 trained CERT members in Santa Monica. The city needs more people to step up and learn how to care first for themselves, and then for their neighbors, family and friends, City Manager Rod Gould told the graduating class.
Preparedness and basic knowledge combine to remove stress from the limited number of first responders like police officers and firefighters that will be able to mobilize in a sudden event.
“You are what Colin Powell called ‘force multipliers,’” Gould said. “You will be our ace in the hole.”
There are already 200 people on a waiting list for the class, which will be taught again in January and early February 2013, but officials are thinking bigger, with maybe even a thousand trained.
The preparedness mindset can be a dark one.
A massive earthquake remains the most likely problem, and unfortunately one of the most difficult to handle.
Unlike other natural disasters like storms, earthquakes give little to no warning. There are no evacuations, no last-minute runs to the hardware or grocery store for supplies — you’re either ready or you aren’t.
The immediate and brutal nature of an earthquake makes it the gold standard for preparedness. If a person has the supplies and knowledge necessary to get through a quake, there’s almost nothing else that can rattle them, said Paul Weinberg, Santa Monica’s emergency services coordinator.
A terrorist attack also tops the list.
The Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Airport and Santa Monica’s pristine beaches attract hundreds of thousands of people to the city by the sea each sunny weekend, swelling a bedtime population of roughly 90,000 to 250,000 and more.
That makes it an ideal target, and one that has already attracted interest from the wrong kind of people, said Michael Frederico, a sergeant with the police department.
Frederico recalled an incident from 2005 in which a concerned citizen turned over pictures of a group of men videotaping infrastructure on the pier. That led to a “hardening” of security on the pier and promenade, with over a million in surveillance equipment added.
The incident highlighted the critical role of the civilian in preventing potential attacks.
“If you see something, say something,” Frederico stressed.
There’s really no way for the three-day CERT class to prepare its volunteers for everything that might face them. Officials just hope that the training will give the trainees enough of a taste to mobilize in the case of a disaster rather than freeze, and be part of the solution rather than the problem.
“We can’t simulate a real disaster, that’s a high price to pay,” said Brad Lomas, a senior fire inspector with the SMFD. “Hopefully you’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I saw this in CERT.’”
Joseli Spilatro, a spunky member of the class, walked away empowered rather than burdened by the doomsday scenarios.
“I feel courageous,” Spilatro said. “That was my goal, to be here for people in my community.”
Those interested can sign up for the CERT class by visiting the Office of Emergency Management page on the city website (smgov.net) and downloading the application. Applicants must be able to pass a background check.
In the meantime, visit the CERT Santa Monica Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CERTSantaMonica for more information, pictures and updates.