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Mission College employees prepare
for the next disaster

Photo of firefighter Kevin Mason demonstrating medical exam techniques on technician Jim Liko.
Firefighter Kevin Mason demonstrates medical exam techniques on technician Jim Liko.

As Southern California marked the 10th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake last month, a group of 50 Mission College employees began training to prepare for the next big one. Or for a calamitous accident. Or a terrorist attack.

The employees, including classified staff, administrators and faculty members, are enrolled in CERT – Community Emergency Response Training. Launched by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985 as a pilot program, CERT trains citizen volunteers to perform basic fire suppression, light search and rescue, and first aid.

In Southern California, the need for volunteers trained to deal with disasters is obvious, as Firefighter Kevin Mason told the Mission College volunteers:

"When the next major earthquake hits, the resources of the L.A. City Fire Department – all 103 stations – are going to be maxed-out within five minutes," he said. "It’s going to be up to you to handle the smaller emergencies."

Mason said people are going to have to fend for themselves, probably for several days. They’re going to have to shut off their own gas and water lines, provide their own food and water, recognize and avoid hazardous situations, and, yes, even treat some serious injuries and wounds.

The Mission College group has received or will receive training in all of those areas. Participants are learning everything from using a fire extinguisher to how to determine if an accident victim is in shock or bleeding internally.

Jim Liko, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technician who has been with the college since 1991, is undergoing the training for the second time. He said it gives him comfort, when considering that disaster may strike at any time.

"Whether I’m at work, at home or in church when it happens, I feel I’ll be able to use my knowledge to help others, to be a leader," he said. "The training gives you confidence to say, ‘I can do it.’"

Photo of Victor Renolds and Erik Danam practicing fire extinguishing.
Victor Renolds and Erik Danam practice fire extinguishing.

Dr. Richard Arvizu, Acting Vice President, Administrative Services, brought the training to Mission College as part of its emergency disaster preparations. He noted that the training not only will benefit the campus, but also the surrounding community.

"Because of our size and location, chances are the college will be a response or evacuation center in a major emergency," he said. "We’ll have trained people on campus to help carry that out."

The origins of CERT date to the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. Untrained volunteers helped rescue more than 800 victims. But more than 100 volunteers died in the effort. The lesson: Volunteers are needed in major disasters, but they must be trained to protect themselves and recognize overly dangerous situations.

Since 1987, more than 40,000 volunteers have been CERT-trained, said Marc Shapiro, L.A. City Fire paramedic and co-trainer of the Mission College group. Now, 49 states and six foreign countries are using the CERT materials and techniques.

The training is offered year-round at locations throughout the city. To learn more about CERT and to see a schedule of training sessions and locations, visit  www.cert-la.com

– BY EDUARDO PARDO  /  Photos: Lydia Chung