By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
The Pacific Palisades Community Council hosted a second public safety and disaster readiness forum during its most recent virtual board meeting, which took place via Zoom on Thursday evening, February 25.
After an introduction from Palisades Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Volunteer Coordinator K.C. Soll, Hank Wright opened the forum with a discussion about the LAFD Auxiliary Communications Service, “the official amateur radio communications group for the city of Los Angeles.”
“Our primary purpose is to provide backup for LAFD’s radio system,” Wright, LAFD ACS Battalion 9 communication unit leader, explained. “In the event that there’s a big disaster and they [aren’t] able to use the telephones or the cells or their own radios, we have radios to be able to help them do that.”
Wright stressed the importance of reviewing LAFD’s Emergency Preparedness Guide, which can be found at cert-la.com/EmergPrepBooklet.pdf. The 39-page document includes information about what to do before, during and after earthquakes, power outages, fires, floods and more.
Wright’s call to action included four items: come up with a plan, obtain an FRS radio (similar to a walkie talkie) with extra batteries, get notified through NotifyLA (emergency.lacity.org/notifyla) and check the PulsePoint app.
He explained that at any given time, the Palisades has 19 LAFD personnel in the area between Stations 23 and 69 covering more than 20,000 residents in the area. They are there 24 hours per day, seven days per week, but if “something really big happens, these 19 people are going to be completely overwhelmed.”
He shared this is why it’s especially important to have a plan and to know neighbors through Ready Your LA Neighborhood or Map Your Neighborhood.
The next speaker, Culver City CERT Training Head Stephanie Benjamin, an EMT of 22 years, began her portion of the forum with a similar sentiment.
“Teamwork is one of the most important aspects of anything you’re going to do,” she shared. “Even if you don’t take the [CERT] training, you need to have that bond with your community so you can work together to solve the issues in front of you.”
CERT is a program that educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, as well as provides training for basic disaster response skills, like fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.
She shared that people think they can depend on the fire department, but their goal in a disaster is to help the most people and save the most amount of life, so they often don’t have the capacity to assist with individuals.
“It could be five days, it could be five weeks before they get to your neighborhood depending on the damage,” she said.
In a slideshow, she pointed out that “disasters can strike quickly and without warning,” and they can “force you to evacuate or confine you to your home”—which is why, she explained, it’s important to have a plan.
Before an earthquake, Benjamin said to create a family plan, make an emergency kit, learn how to use any tools in the kit, identify hazards in the home and work place, and fix those hazards.
“If it’s taller than it is wide,” she explained, “it’s going to topple, which means it can block your exits.”
During an earthquake, Benjamin asked that people stay calm, and to drop, cover and hold on. She explained to not run outside or use elevators.
“Do not run to help your children,” she added. “I know that’s the hardest thing to hear, but most injuries happen when you are running to get to someone else to help them. Stay where you are and then after the shaking stops, make your way to that person.”
She explained that having a family disaster plan and kit will “help ensure the safety of family members” and “help family members make informed, rational decisions in times of high stress requiring rapid decision making and action.”
Steps to developing a family disaster plan include researching hazards for the area (like flooding, brush fires, etc.) and how local organizations, like the Red Cross and CERT, will help. It also includes creating a communication plan, complete with both an out-of-state and local contact.
Benjamin explained it’s important to determine meeting places, suggesting to take into account the time of day the potential disaster occurs and have a place to meet if it’s 9 a.m., 2 p.m. or 3 a.m., as well as a weekday or weekend—and to practice this.
Data suggests that an emergency kit should last at least 72 hours, according to Benjamin. Essential items include water, food, cash and important documents, clothes, flashlight, first-aid kit, medicine, radio, toiletries, and tools.
“Bed sheets are amazing,” she added. “Anytime you get new bed sheets, throw your old ones into your emergency kit. You can tear them up to create bandages, you can hang them up to create shade, you can use them as a stretcher to carry someone.”
Palisades Highlands Ready Your LA Neighborhood Volunteer Coordinator Jenny Buchbinder concluded the forum with a presentation about the program, which is a free service offered by the City of LA Emergency Management Department that allows neighborhoods to be more prepared for big disasters.
“It’s not just about preparing your own self and your own family,” Buchbinder explained, “but should there be a disaster, it will be really important to coordinate with and know your neighbors. The whole idea of mutual aid.”
There are currently 17 RYLAN plans in place throughout the Palisades and Rustic Canyon. Buchbinder said the area can be a block, five, 10 or 15 homes, or something larger, depending on the need for the area.
The plan includes a Map Your Neighborhood meeting, where neighbors meet to create a response plan. Over the course of the 90-minute meeting, those within the area identify meeting places, as well as relevant special skills and equipment each resident has.
A contact list is also created, with information about neighbors who may need extra assistance during a disaster or have pets.
For more information or to get started with RYLAN, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Emergency Management Coordinator Jackie Koci Tamayo at email@example.com.