Peninsula residents not ready for disaster

Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina fixed the nation’s attention on emergency preparedness, San Mateo County’s civil grand jury has released a report criticizing the lack of emergency training among area residents.

Only 0.1 percent, or 1,123, of the county’s 700,000 residents have completed Community Emergency Response Team training, according to jury foreman Ted Glasgow. Emergency experts in the county blamed cuts to fire department budgets — generally responsible for administering the training — and a lack of interest by area residents in recent years. New Homeland Security funding could help turn those trends around, however, officials said.

“I think what put it in the forefront for the public was the Katrina effect, which has been waning in recent months,” Redwood City Fire Chief Gerry Kohlmann said. Redwood City is one of 10 Peninsula cities with zero CERT-trained residents.

Kohlmann’s department plans to hold its first CERT training in a decade this September. The class is already full with 30 people, he said. “What’s clear to us at this point is that the community is willing to remain engaged.”

While schools and transit agencies — such as San Francisco International Airport and the San Mateo County Transit Authority — receivedhigh marks for their disaster plans, the grand jury called for Peninsula fire departments to establish ongoing CERT training courses. “Practically none of the cities have a CERT program operating,” Glasgow said.

In fact, only Foster City, Menlo Park and Woodside have more than 100 people trained, according to the grand jury report. First aid, search and rescue, as well as fire and hazardous materials safety protocol are all part of the nationally recognized CERT training program. Typically a neighborhood of 15 to 20 households are trained at once on how to work together to survive without government assistance for up to two weeks, said the county director of emergency service and homeland security Lt. John Quinlan.

In response to the low number of CERT-trained residents, the grand jury has recommended that elected officials lead the way by enrolling first in an effort to training 5 percent of Peninsula households. “Private citizens have got to be prepared for disasters,” Glasgow said.

“The good news is that we should be receiving $100,000 in grant funds for CERT this year,” Quinlan said. That is nearly triple the amount received in each of the past five years, he added. The county intends to use part of the funds to hire a part-time coordinator to help maintain contact with Peninsula CERT leaders, recruit new residents and seek donations for equipment, according to Quinlan.

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