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Community preparedness

Residents serve neighborhoods, city through CERT

David Rost started unit four by asking the class the four colors of triage. The room suddenly filled with a flurry of answers — red, black, green, yellow — each one meaning a different level of trauma to the students in September's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.

"You guys did great," said Rost, who has been a CERT volunteer and instructor for a few years.

After the quick review, the 23 class participants flipped to "Disaster Medical Operations — Part 2" in their big, black binders. These lessons come straight from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) national CERT curriculum, which includes sections such as fire safety, light search and rescue and team organization. In Palo Alto, residents enroll in the free training program and attend class two days a week for three hours at a time for a month and cap the experience with a skills day.

More than 800 people have completed CERT in Palo Alto, said Nathan Rainey, emergency services coordinator with the city's Office of Emergency Services. CERT training is also offered in surrounding communities, such as Menlo Park, Mountain View and San Jose.

"We hope that through the training, residents are better able to deal with any situation they find themselves in," Rainey said.

While explaining medical disaster situations on Sept. 17, Rost pulled emergency supplies from his red duffle bag, including a pair of blue gloves that he wore the entire time he taught. At the start of the program, residents, such as Sharon Inouye, realized they needed a better first-aid kit at home. Now Inouye has a whistle, Family Radio Service (a private, two-way, short-distance communications service) and a stock of clotting bandages.

"You can't rely on someone else to rescue you," said the 28-year resident of the College Terrace neighborhood. "I wanted to know what to do in an emergency and not be part of the problem, and this was free."

Residents learn these lifesaving skills from staff and volunteers, such as Rainey and Rost, who have completed FEMA's Train-the-Trainer program. During September's training, four locals volunteered their time to teach: Rost, Dan Melick, Michele Patin and Scott Petersen. They practice their methods, incorporating interactive and hands-on activities into each lesson.

"I don't believe people soak things up by just listening," Rost said. "I want the lessons to have a level of teamwork, and I want people to feel comfortable learning."

His section included a head-to-toe check, and Nika Cassaro, a participant from Redwood City, volunteered to be the victim. She laid on a purple yoga mat in the middle of the room and twinged in fake pain to create a teachable experience. At each part of the body, Rost would stop and ask the group crowded around Cassaro about what signs should be documented. Next, participants paired up and practiced the skills on their own.

"Without the hands-on interaction, the course would be useless," Rainey said. "It's programs like this that are making this city more resilient."

Petersen, a CERT member since 2007 and a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, sees his involvement as a major way to give back to the community. Plus, he gets to share his 20-plus years of Red Cross and first-aid training. This sentiment is also shared by Mark Meyers, an 11-year member who lives in the Leland Manor neighborhood. Before CERT, he served as a World Trade Center first responder on Sept. 11, 2001, and is now retired from the Menlo Park rescue team.

"I love being part of a mission and a team," Meyers said.

Since being a part of CERT, he has been called out to help direct traffic at the Baylands, watch the hills for fire during Fourth of July celebrations, watch for floods during the rainy season and issue sandbags when flooding occurs. On occasion, he and his son play victims during the final training day for CERT program participants.

September's class gathers tomorrow, Sept. 26, for their skills test. They will put their eight units of learning into practice and will return back to their neighborhood with a CERT certificate in hand.

"Everyone has weaknesses and strengths," Meyers said. "You bring it all together to be safe."

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