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Disaster Response: CERT-ainly Better Prepared Now

CERT training in action (Andreanna Ditton/LAist)
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By Andreanna Ditton/Special to LAist

It snowed last weekend in Los Angeles (okay, in outer LA), and if that’s not a sign of the end times I don’t know what is. Actually, it’s just a sign of shifting weather patterns and maybe global warming, but crazy weather is a good reminder that the potential for natural disaster is ever looming. We may not have freak blizzards, and that tsunami thing is hopefully just a rumor, but we’ve got mudslides, brushfires, heatwaves, epic rain, and the big E: Earthquake.

So what would you do in the midst of an earthquake, a building collapse or a train accident? If you’re able-bodied, you’ll want to help, right? I bet you don’t know how to best help yourself and your family. That’s okay because the Community Emergency Response Team training (CERT) will teach you how. Plus, they’ll do it for FREE!

Beginning CERT classes are offered over a seven-week period. In addition to learning the basics of disaster preparation (own a flashlight and a wrench, stockpile water but swap it out because it can go bad, have extra meds on hand for you, your kids and your pets, fill up the bathtub from the water left in your water heater, etc.), you’ll also learn how to help others in the face of any emergency, including basic medical assessment, triage, signage, and other forms of communication. CERT has a basic mantra - in a big disaster, you will likely be on your own for 72 hours. Learn how to take care of yourself until help arrives.

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From search and rescue to putting out small fires, CERT classes make you better prepared to live usefully in the world. Held by community leaders and public servants (including firemen and women), they teach you how to answer different disasters as they come. For instance, what’s your first course of action during a big earthquake?

Here’s a hint, the answer is NOT: “Grab both cats, and a gun, put ‘em in a backpack, and run outside.” The answer is also not to stand in a doorway, or near anything made of glass. You should get under a stable structure: a table, a couch, something that will protect you from stuff falling. In the face of aftershocks, you should then make sure the gas is turned off. If people are suffering from injury, you need to check their breathing, heart-rate and basic awareness of their surroundings. Is everything normal? Good. You’re all okay.

See, don’t you feel more prepared now?

The other key is to find the friend who’s really good at being prepared and use them as the focus for a meeting point. Your phones won’t work, you may not be able to drive anywhere, so have a plan, have a backpack, have some food and water and a good pair of boots, and stay calm. Things will be okay. You took that CERT class, and you know what to do. (It’s a good thing you do, because sometimes your really prepared friend moves across the country).

Classes across the city begin in March, so go here to see what fits your schedule: or

For those of you who’ve already taken basic CERT training and earned your green hard hat and flashlight, more advanced classes are available from the Red Cross, as well as refreshers and special seminars. And to stay on top of your preparation, follow PrepareLA on Twitter.