‘We are Malibu’s first responders’

(From left) Malibu CERT team members Grant W. Graves, Logan Brashear, and Donna Gilbert, CERT Team Leader Richard Garvey, Jeff Litow and Public Safety Director Susan Dueñas are shown during the first CERT Training class on Thursday, April 13. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

Malibu CERT returns with disaster preparedness training

The Malibu Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a highly acclaimed, nationwide program that empowers community members to help themselves and their neighbors during disasters. The city is currently offering a series of training and informative classes that will be held on Thursday evenings at Malibu City Hall where residents can be better prepared during and after an emergency.

CERT volunteers are a crucial part of the city’s ability to prepare and respond to disasters. Volunteers are trained in basic first aid, fire suppression, and search and rescue so that they can provide emergency assistance to their neighbors.

The first class was an introduction to disaster preparedness, and CERT-trained team members joined the class to answer questions and share their volunteer efforts. About 15 Malibu and Topanga Canyon residents joined the first training class of the season. Malibu Public Safety Director Susan Dueñas welcomed the class to the first CERT basic training on Thursday, April 13. 

Dueñas began with the different types of emergency services they provide, the different types of roles, and hazardous areas to prepare for. Dueñas emphasized the importance of being prepared for emergencies, as well as providing emotional support, especially to the vulnerable population.

“When you have more people prepared, then more people in the community will be safe, and the more likely we will have more survivors,” Dueñas said. “So when you’re caught into a situation where you feel vulnerable and you don’t know what to do, you want to be prepared for a disaster, so you don’t feel that way because it will also help with the emotional part of the disaster, the emotional trauma is like the invisible injury.”

The class was divided into four groups, and the first exercise was to construct a standing tower using office supplies. The class worked together to figure out how they can create a solution.

During the Woolsey Fire, Malibu CERT volunteers contributed about 300 hours of service to the emergency response by distributing food and medical supplies, conducting wellness checks, assisting with evacuations, and administering basic first aid.

“Unfortunately, after Woolsey, that was a real struggle. As you know, a lot of people [lost power] and so we weren’t able to communicate with [them], but our CERT team, we came up with information stations where we can post information,” Dueñas said. “That is our goal, to serve and help you as much as we can.”

With the Emergency Operations Plan, all government agencies with a role in disaster response work to organize and coordinate their agencies’ activities before an emergency.

Dueñas said they are coordinating with organizations such as the Fire Brigade, Arson Watch and Malibu Boys & Girls Club for more resources.

“Obviously we’re [the city] small so we have to be able to look out to our community what are the other resources that are out there and then recognize them, leverage them, support them and bring them all together in our emergency plan,” Dueñas said. “That’s something we’re doing in the next year is reaching out to the various community groups. We can’t do everything, but we just need to know who is doing that and just get that coordinated a little bit better and help each other.”

The first class also addressed local hazard vulnerability such as coastal flooding, tsunami, earthquake, land and rockslides, and wildfires. 

“It’s what makes Malibu beautiful and desirable, Malibu Canyon is beautiful, but it’s so dangerous,” Dueñas said. “It’s kind of the tradeoff when you live in a beautiful area, sometimes there’s hazards that come with the territory, but the trick is to be prepared for them and do everything you can to litigate the impact of those potential hazards.”

Disasters are unexpected. Dueñas emphasized the importance of staying informed from official sources for the most accurate information.

Malibu CERT Team Leader Richard Garvey said the training courses provide critical information.

“It’s wonderful to have a really good size of people that are interested,” he said. “This is great information and great training that we can get out to the community whether they want to part of the CERT team or not. They’re going to go back home with a greater level of knowledge and understanding of what they can do to help themselves, their family and their community. 

“We lost a lot of time during COVID, but now that we’re back on track, we hope to do this at least two to three times a year.” 

The Malibu CERT team was also assisting the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. Team member Donna Gilbert remembered being called early in the pandemic to assist with the COVID testing sites.

“A lot of people are coming in with no information on any of this, but this gives everyone a little bit of information and hopefully a little bit of taste, so maybe this will give someone a little push in wanting to know more,” Garvey said. “Especially during and after the Woolsey Fire, we’ve done a lot more as a CERT team, we’ve become better trained, and by continuing trainings with our monthly meetings and drills, we can function better as a team and we can provide resources to the community that the city just can’t do.”

After completing the CERT course, participants may enjoy their new skills or join the CERT team. The CERT team meets once a month at Malibu City Hall multipurpose room.

Garvey said the benefit of the Malibu CERT team is that most of the members live in Malibu and when it comes to response time, they’re one call away.

“We’re the first responders until the first responders get there,” Garvey said. “So it’s something we can provide to the community, so we can be that bridge between the city and much of the community.”

The CERT team recently received an award from the California Emergency Services Association – Southern Chapter (CESA-SC) for its many contributions towards community-wide emergency preparedness in Malibu. Following the communications blackout during the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the CERT Team joined with the city’s efforts to improve radio, satellite, and backup power capabilities to enable emergency communications during future disasters. 

For more information about the CERT program, or to sign up, visit the CERT webpage or call Public Safety Liaison Luis Flores at (310) 456-2489, ext. 236, or email publicsafety@malibucity.org.