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Academy looking for students Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Nov 20 2010 12:00 PM

The city of National City is calling the community to respond and participate in its first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Academy which begins in January.

The partnership with Southwestern College provides a program in which citizens are trained to become first responders, responsible for the protection of life and property, and to act as emergency responders.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison said the academy is a proactive step to help increase public safety. "It will position people for certain disasters to respond in case of emergencies," he said. "If you have a few people in the community, it helps in all directions."

Frank Parra is the director of emergency services for the city of National City and will assist with drills during academy training. Parra said CERT is important for the entire region and focuses on providing vital services in the absence or delay of emergency responders.

Students attend four classes on disaster preparedness, fire safety, disaster medical operations, search and rescue, CERT organization, incident command system, disaster psychology and terrorism.

"In the midst of a disaster, you may not have fire or police services and a citizen needs to be able to maintain themselves for the first 72 hours," Parra said. "It's very beneficial to be trained and assume that responsibility."

According to National City Homeland Security Manager Walter Amedee, CERT members will not only respond to disasters. "We can call in CERT teams to assist with anything," he said. Amedee said volunteers can aid in small scale events, such as distributing information door to door.

Amedee is the program coordinator for CERT. "With bigger events, CERT team members will self deploy and go around the neighborhood to try to rectify situations," he said.

Amedee said that after a disaster such as an earthquake, residents may not receive assistance from the fire department for up to three days. "The reality is we only have two fire stations," he said. "CERT can assist in light search and rescue and first aid so people don't have to rely on fire and police response."

Parra said the academy is designed to gather citizens specific to neighborhood councils so they can be a support system for the community.

In July, volunteers delivered more than 200,000 "Before the Threat" packages on wildfire prevention and preparedness throughout San Diego County's high-fire risk areas. The packet contained a 10-minute informational DVD, homeowner's checklist, household contents inventory record and links to San Diego County emergency planning resources.

"Any time you have a community engagement with public service it's an excellent opportunity," National City Chief of Police Adolfo Gonzales said.

When a disaster occurs, CERT members receive a call and deploy to their designated teams. They are outfitted with a backpack containing a flashlight, helmet, gloves, eye goggles, first aid kit, caution tape and a jacket vest.

"The expectation is to have that first level of response in the community to respond to any disaster, particularly the earthquake situations," Amedee said.

After graduating from the academy, volunteers are qualified for a disaster service worker card and stay involved through annual city-sponsored refresher courses and drills, advanced training, community activities and team-building exercises.

The program aims to increase the partnership between communities, volunteers, city officials and the National City Fire Department in times of need. The fire department received a $25,000 grant to pay for training, instructors and equipment.

Gonzales said the program promotes pubic safety. "We educate residents in what we go through with emergency response or critical incidents so they have a better understanding of what we do," he said.

Academy training is an intensive 24-hour course that offers specialized training for people of all abilities and specialties, including organizational and people skills, ham radio operators and other aptitudes necessary to a team. The program runs Jan. 4 through 15.

It is also part of the city council's initiative to aid in resident safety during a disaster.

The classes are free of charge and open to all National City residents or employees of businesses with a physical address in National City. Members must be 16 years or older. Certificates of completion are issued to participants at the conclusion of the CERT Academy.

Those interested in attending the CERT Academy can call (619) 336-4556.

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