The Berkeley Emergency Prep Fair is aimed to help residents know what to do with pets and little ones in case of a disaster. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A brand new interactive fair is coming to Berkeley this weekend, aimed to help residents get prepared for disaster with a focus on children and pets.

The free event, at the North Berkeley BART station, takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 26. There will be food and music, kids’ activities, prizes and games, as well as first aid and CPR training, pet evacuation workshops, a blood drive and much more.

“It’s really geared toward the empowerment of individuals in our community,” said Gradiva Couzin, a Berkeley resident and CERT volunteer who has been helping organize the event. “Our goal is to help everyone recognize their own strengths, and what they can contribute and bring to disaster response.”

Couzin said attendees can expect “many interactive elements,” adding: “It’s not just booths with people handing out pieces of paper.”

There will be quiz show activities families can do together, hands-on pet preparedness training, and a car packed for evacuation in which people will be asked to identify tools and other supplies.

Numerous local organizations have signed up to participate, with presentations that range from a “shake table” from Lawrence Hall of Science, survival-oriented demonstrations from Bay Area Trackers Earth, information from Children’s Hospital Oakland about how to help young ones in a disaster, and much more. Many other groups related to disaster preparedness activities and services are also involved.

There’s also an attendance contest for students from all Berkeley schools; the school that has the highest number of participants will win a special prize, organizers said.

And an “Inspiration Wall” will be set up in the middle of the festivities where attendees can contribute their own stories about steps they plan to take to get prepared.

In past years, April has been the month when the Fire Department has held a city-wide disaster preparedness drill. This year, that drill is scheduled to take place Oct. 18, and will build on skills highlighted during this weekend’s Emergency Prep Fair.

The Berkeley Emergency Prep Fair layout. Image: Berkeley CERT

Emily King Colwell, a volunteer who has been helping organize the pet-related elements of this weekend’s event, said that, in addition to pet first aid training from the American Red Cross, there will also be several service dogs on site to help people who may not be comfortable with animals practice “meeting and greeting” them.

“During an emergency, there may be dogs that are stray, or out of their yards, and we want people to be ready for that,” she said.

Organizers are asking people not to bring their own pets to the fair, as there will be certain activities that could potentially spook them, along with potential crowds.

She said event planners put a special focus on kids and pets this year in hopes of drawing a broader segment of the community into the city’s disaster preparedness program.

“People think about evacuation routes, but not necessarily what to do with kids and pets,” she said. “Many households have either a child or a pet, or both, but they are often overlooked in planning.”

Several volunteers during a recent prep fair planning meeting practiced basic first aid skills. Photo: Gradiva Couzin

Deputy Berkeley Fire Chief Avery Webb said the hope for this year’s fair is that people will “bring the whole family out.”

Helping residents prepare for a disaster is one of the primary aims of the Berkeley Fire Department’s Office of Emergency Services, which oversees CERT programs and other emergency readiness efforts. Getting residents trained and organized, authorities say, is especially important because, in the case of a major disaster, the capacity for local first-responders to handle neighborhood-level problems will be extremely limited. It could take hours, if not days, to get help from authorities, depending on the scale of the emergency.

“One of the most terrifying things is not knowing what to do in a disaster,” Webb said. “This type of training helps people prepare for those types of events. Once people come through and get some education, they’re empowered. There’s less fear and they can organize their households, or get involved with neighborhood organizations to provide mutual support.”

Throughout the year, the city holds a variety of training programs and courses, via its CERT program, to help adults learn how to be prepared. But this year’s prep fair is a way to extend the reach of that training.

“You can be entertained and learn something at the same time,” said Webb. “It’s all about getting the word out there, getting information to people, and giving them an opportunity to learn about safety, as well as learning how to help themselves and help their neighbors.”

Volunteers have worked hard to plan this year’s disaster preparedness fair, said CERT program coordinator Khin Chin. Photo: Wendy Tonkyro
Volunteers have worked hard to plan this year’s disaster preparedness fair, said CERT program coordinator Khin Chin. Photo: Wendy Tonkyro

CERT program coordinator for the city Khin Chin said he’s been inspired to watch the planning process for this year’s fair, which has been “entirely designed and driven by volunteers.” About 15 people form the team that came up with the event.

“It’s really community members putting together what they feel they themselves need to help get through an emergency,” he said.

After last year’s disaster drill in April, the planning team for that event met and decided “something was missing” from the city’s efforts toward preparedness. During the drill, activities take place in many neighborhoods around the city but rely primarily on block-level organization rather than a city-wide scope.

The prep fair is designed in part to fill that gap by giving residents a chance to learn about tools, techniques and ideas they can put in place during October’s drill. The idea is to offer actionable, interactive education in a carnival-type atmosphere, and help people connect with each other, too.

“We hope people take this opportunity to take action to protect their kids and their pets and our community,” Chin said. “It’s not something where you just take home information about what you should do later. It’s about taking that opportunity to do it together on this day.”

See the prep fair schedule here. Further ideas about steps in preparedness can be found on the city website. Learn more at Learn more about Berkeley CERT training here.

Berkeley uses free dumpsters to boost disaster prep zeal (03.07.14)
Berkeley CERT volunteer academy takes off this weekend (08.02.13)
Berkeley unites for earthquake safety (04.29.13)
Join the Berkeley-wide emergency drill April 27 (04.10.13)
Berkeley targets underserved for disaster preparedness (10.04.12)
Gear up for the Big One with help from friends (06.17.10)

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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...