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Getting Ready for Earthquakes in LA: An Interview with Captain Stacy Gerlich of the Disaster Preparedness CERT Unit

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If there is anyone who is prepared for an earthquake of a much higher magnitude than last night’s 4.5, Captain Stacy Gerlich of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is that person. Gerlich, whose official title is Captain I/Paramedic CERT Program Coordinator Special Operations Section, Disaster Preparedness CERT Unit, is in charge of the complimentary program that trains Los Angeles citizens to prepare themselves, their families and their neighborhoods for disasters. This program is the Community Emergency Preparedness Team (CERT), a project of the LAFD that Mayor Villaraigosa attempted to cut in the budget cuts earlier this year, but failed due to public pressure.

She’s been on the job for almost 21 years as a paramedic in the field on a rescue ambulance, a CERT instructor and a Captain for Battalion 1 “C” shift in East Los Angeles. A true Valley Girl, born, raised and currently living in the Lake Balboa area, Gerlich chatted with us from Station 88 in Sherman Oaks back in January. However, it seems no one cares to read about emergency preparedness until after the fact. So we waited patiently. Let’s hope last night’s quake perked your ears.

1. We say CERT and one thinks minty fresh breath. What say you?

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When we say CERT in Los Angeles, we immediately think of Ninja Turtles. Those turtles are our CERT members who have attended a minimum of 20 hours of training in Disaster Preparedness. The training covers background in disasters, the use of a fire extinguisher, triage, bandaging/splinting, search and rescue, incident command, psychology as it relates to critical incident stress and terrorism awareness.

2. What are some of the things active CERT members do when they are called on to duty? [NOTE: It is not required to be on active duty. You can take the training for your own personal edification]

In the recent past we have utilized our volunteers to assist the LAFD in areas such as, watching downed power lines until DWP can respond. This affords LAFD to keep resources available for real emergencies. CERT volunteers have assisted community members in filling and placing sandbags, putting out small fires, assisting LAFD during RED FLAG days. They walk to the neighborhoods that have been identified as High Fire Zone areas. They have also assisted in large departmental drills playing victims.

3. If there is one thing our readers could do right now to get prepared, you would encourage them to do what?

Everyone should have a Disaster Plan in place. Everyone should have water on hand for disasters only. 1 gallon per person for 5 days. Along with the water, you should have food, flashlights, first aid supplies, small denominations of cash, copies of important documents and don't forget about the pets!!!

4. We often hear people say that the '94 Northridge Quake "wasn't that bad". If the same scale earthquake happened today, how would things be different for the better and for the worse?

When the next big quake hits, those that have taken the time and steps to prepare will do much better than those that haven't. According to the experts, our next big quake won't necessarily be worse than what we experienced during the 1994 Northridge quake. With the LAFD Disaster Preparedness Unit training approximately 3000 citizens/ year in preparing for disasters, I believe we will do much better.

5. Do you have any stories to tell from the '94 Quake that are relevant for people today?

There are many stories to tell really. I have been doing this for almost 15 years. What people really need to know is this: Our earthquakes don't kill people. What kills people are objects that fly around during earthquakes. It's the bridges that collapse under or over us. If we take the steps to secure whatever heavy objects we have in our living and work spaces, we greatly reduce the risk of injury.

6. When the big one hits, where do you want to be?

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I hope I am at home to make sure my family is safe. Once I have done that, I will quickly survey my neighborhood and then respond to work.

If you're interested in getting prepared, check out the CERT calendar and get thee to a class. New sessions start later this month.

Previously on LAist: