Meet Michael Fischer, Mill Valley CERT
When the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989, I was the CEO of a nonprofit with 250 staff in a four-story brick building in San Francisco’s Civic Center area. Glass broke, cabinets toppled, light fixtures came loose from above, pictures leapt off the walls, the building creaked and groaned, and many staff were utterly terrified. We evacuated and taking roll out on the street, found no-one was injured. But what to do next? Go back in the building? How to get home? My wife, who worked in the Financial District, and I were separated until past midnight, and we didn’t want that to happen to us again if we could help it. The experience led us, several months later, to become the first company to receive NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) training from the SF Fire Department.
I found that training to be so valuable–preparing for emergencies and dealing with the aftermath as well as building a cohesive set of teams within our staff–that I wanted to have the same preparation at home. And a solid reason to establish closer relations with my neighbors. So, several years later, I signed up for CERT training under the expert tutelage of then-Captain Michael St. John of the Mill Valley Fire Department. The lessons were all the same as those I had learned in The City: search techniques, cribbing, basic triage, use of a fire extinguisher, dealing with downed power lines, basic first aid, filling sandbags, carrying injured people from dangerous surroundings, and more. My wife and I simply wanted to feel safer in our home and our community. And now we do.
In a major earthquake, the communications systems we have become so accustomed to: telephones, cellphones, texting, wi-fi/internet access—will all be disrupted, perhaps for weeks. That’s why, initially, I got an amateur radio license—I am now an active ham radio operator, K6MLF. The Marin Amateur Radio Society has established a series of mountaintop repeaters so that hams with small, hand-held radios will be able to communicate county-wide, especially with the County Office of Emergency Services. Our family members all have the number of friends in Portland, Oregon—and they know that they are the communications hub for our family. The Mill Valley CERT teams will be connected with the many hand-held radios the City has acquired for our use, and many CERT team members have walkie-talkies. But the real communications problem will be with our own residents who, in a panic-filled emergency situation, will be unwilling or unable to listen to information from people who they don’t know and therefore don’t trust. That’s why getting to know our neighbors in advance of an emergency is so important. CERT volunteers may have the information they need, but we need to be known by a far larger proportion of our town’s residents if we are to be turned to for trusted advice and assistance in an emergency.
Here’s a message for anyone thinking of taking CERT: Hey! You want to stay active, engaged, youthful, and to have fun? Get trained as a CERT volunteer and stay active in refresher-training! Want to feel more secure at home, even knowing that we live in Earthquake Country, and one of the highest fire-hazard communities in the country? Get trained as a CERT volunteer and get all the emergency supplies you need, in home and all of your cars, and you’ll have a greater sense of peace and security! Want to have an activity in which all of your family members can participate? Get CERT-trained as a family! This is not only important stuff to know, important stuff to actually do, important skills that you can have to help yourself and others in need but it’s enjoyable as well. Do you like laughter, outdoor activities, intellectually-challenging exercises? CERT’s for you.