Apodaca: CERT-ifiably prepared for disasters in Newport

March 18, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

Matt Brisbois has slept little since being awakened by a late-night phone call March 10, in which he received the news that Japan had suffered a major earthquake and that the ensuing tsunami could be headed our way.

As the Newport Beach Fire Department's community-preparedness coordinator, he was part of a team charged with communicating with other agencies in coastal Orange County and carrying out plans to inform the public of the tsunami risk.

Fortunately, Newport Beach dodged a bullet. The threat never reached the level of a tsunami warning, at which point the city would have begun evacuating low-lying areas.


But a sad aspect of human nature is that it often takes a tragedy to awaken us from complacency. That held true this week as the nightmare in Japan continued to unfold, reminding Californians of our own fragile existence.

Since the Japan quake, Matt has fielded nonstop phone calls from concerned residents, other public service workers and pesky journalists like me. But when I called him earlier this week, he was gracious and generous with his time, despite his exhaustion.

"The big message is that Newport Beach is just as vulnerable as Japan," he said. "We need to prepare for this event now."

Thanks in large part to Matt, that's exactly what's happening. The amiable, 33-year-old Lido Isle resident runs the city's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, a concept started in Los Angeles in the 1980s that is now part of a nationwide effort. It's backed by federal, state and local funding to teach citizens how to survive a disaster.

Newport Beach has one of the biggest and most successful CERT programs in the country. The city has more than 650 CERT graduates — including yours truly — and has given some emergency preparedness training to another 600. I completed the program in the fall of 2007, making me part of a corps of citizen volunteers who can spring into action when needed.

The basic theory behind CERT is that if a major earthquake, flood, fire, tsunami, terrorist attack or other disaster hits us, the professional safety agencies will be overwhelmed. It could be days before rescuers arrive, so it will be incumbent upon us layfolk to help ourselves.

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