In the city's CERT Academy training, residents learn how to respond during emergencies. Photo: Khin Chin/Berkeley Fire Department
In the city’s CERT Academy training, residents learn how to respond during emergencies. Photo: Khin Chin/Berkeley Fire Department

A Berkeley-wide disaster exercise is set to take place later this month, and the city is working hard to get as many people involved as possible.

Participation ranges from the exceedingly simple — just sign up to receive emergency text alerts about the drill — to the more involved, with local business and neighborhood groups planning a range of activities.

Many of the activities will revolve around the idea of how to respond to a 6.9-magnitude earthquake, but the city is also trying to keep the event somewhat open-ended to increase participation. The event is set to take place April 27 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will include a public debriefing scheduled for noon at the Frances Albrier Community Center, 2800 Park St., after the exercises themselves.

It’s the second year Berkeley has carried out the drill, which is organized by the city’s Office of Emergency Services and its Community Emergency Response Teams (commonly known as “CERT”). Participation is open to “all residents of Berkeley and anyone who comes to Berkeley for any reason (work, school, etc.). Any level of participation is encouraged — even five minutes can make a big difference, the organizers said.

Last year, for the inaugural event, about 900 people from over 70 neighborhood groups participated in the drill, and the city is hoping to double participation this year.

Participants in the city's CERT training practice their skills. Photo: Khin Chin/Berkeley Fire Department
Participants in the city’s CERT training practice their skills. Photo: Khin Chin/Berkeley Fire Department

Susan Snyder, a resident of the Halcyon Neighborhood Group in South Berkeley, was part of last year’s drill. Snyder said this year’s activities will include search-and-rescue-type exercises, as well as hands-on training stations, a first aid-instruction station, and a session on “pet preparedness.” Last year, she said, participants learned “a lot about how complicated it can feel, juggling radios and instructions, even without it being an actual disaster.” Beyond that, she said, coming together to meet neighbors was a key element of the exercise.

“The heart of disaster preparation is that, if we know our neighbors, we’re there for them,” she said. “It’s helpful to have the skills, but as long as we’re there together, that’s the main thing.”

Snyder said her neighborhood, one of the larger organized groups in the city, is focusing on finding out which skills different people could contribute. And, while some people may bring disaster training experience, others may be able to offer useful but less obvious skills, such as childcare or even clear handwriting for communicating by pen and paper should the need arise.

Individuals who aren’t connected with neighborhood groups can do several easy tasks on April 27. These include calling or texting your out-of-area contact; tuning in to the city’s emergency radio station at 1610 AM; and checking fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. Slightly more involved steps could include locating two fire stations near one’s home, and finding the gas, water and electrical shutoffs. Several additional options are listed here.

“Our perspective is that this is an important exercise that anyone in our community can participate in,” said Berkeley Police Capt. Andy Greenwood. The Berkeley Fire Department “is working to reach out to all parts of the community no matter what their current level of preparedness is, whether an individual, a family, a neighborhood, a business or a community organization. There are activities for anyone who wants to take part and the more participants the Fire Department gets, the more prepared our community will be overall.” A participant handbook is available for download in the resources section below.

Berkeley CERT training April 27

Residents around Berkeley may see participants wearing green CERT vests and pop-up tents on blocks where neighbors are holding activities, said Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Lee, who runs the city’s Office of Emergency Services. Neighbors will determine their own drills, but they could include practice scenarios such as how to check a house on a steep slope during a quake, what to do with debris in the roadway, or how to deal with a collapsed building, a house fire or a gas main break in the event that landlines are down.

Businesses such as Berkeley Bowl, Walgreens and United Pharmacy, along with nearly 400 neighborhood associations, schools, co-ops and faith-based groups have already signed up. Lee said participants who have signed up to receive emergency text alerts will get a message about the drill.

Khin Chin, a Fire Department staffer in the Office of Emergency Services, said the goal is a “day of action” where everyone who’s interested can get involved.

“We want people to take some action and we give them all the opportunities to do it,” he said. “It’s all about awareness. There are a lot of components about it that go back to testing ourselves and doing our training.”

Even individuals who are out of town can take part just by signing up for the emergency email alert. This year, said Chin, support from business and school groups has already been overwhelming. Business associations have been putting up posters, and the school district sent home thousands of fliers with students.

“A lot of people are excited. There’s been incredible community support,” he said. “Look at the schools. The kids are how you get to the parents, and a flier went home with each student. It’s important that we all recognize what we can do to be prepared.”

More resources:

Schedule of events: Saturday, April 27

  • 9-11 a.m.: Neighborhood and individual exercises
  • 11-11:30 a.m.: Neighborhood feedback session
  • Noon to 1 p.m.: Citywide exercise debriefing

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...