Marin County CERT Coordinator Maggie Lang shared about emergency preparedness, special considerations for older adults, and how collaboration is everything in her vision for an age-friendly Marin.
I am the Coordinator for the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program for the County of Marin and also work with the Get Ready program. CERT is a national program under FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) with more than 600,000 CERT-trained emergency volunteers.
In Marin, we have 10 CERT classes a year in five different locations, including Novato, San Rafael, Central Marin, Southern Marin and West Marin. Residents from 14 – 90 years of age take the classes with an average age of 52. Classes are about half men and half women. We partner with local fire departments to put on the CERT classes. The classes cost $45 to cover the cost of class materials. We also offer scholarships.
In the last few weeks during the Sonoma and Napa County fires, CERTs worked at the Civic Center and Terra Linda High School shelters, assisted Mill Valley staff in a shelter set up at Tam High (which was not needed in the end), and set up and maintained a site at the Strawberry Seminary for fire fighters in Sonoma to come here to rest and breath some clean air.
The Get Ready program started in Tiburon 10 years ago. Get Ready is a free county-sponsored two hour training, facilitated by local fire departments and community volunteers. The Get Ready program teaches people what they need to be prepared to take care of themselves and their families. For more information or to see the class schedule, click here.
How did you get into this kind of work?
My background is in nursing. I was a nurse practitioner in pediatrics. I started volunteering and teaching first aid classes in my kids’ schools. In 2011, the County received a grant for a countywide training program, so I’ve been coordinator now for almost seven years.
How does someone sign up for CERT classes?
You can find info, classes or contact us through the Ready Marin website. Registration is offered online through PayPal or by printing the registration form and mailing a check for $45.00.
What are the benefits of the CERT and Get Ready programs?
We provide people with information and safety skills for disaster preparedness. It can feel overwhelming – I have three kids, and used to worry about what I needed to have to take care of them for 5-7 days if a disaster occurred. We need to have water stored up first, and camping gear is helpful for people who want to shelter in place.
Following a disaster and depending on advice from our public safety professionals, residents will either need to stay at home or leave their home for a safer location. If families are able to shelter-in-place at home, they need to have enough supplies of food and water for five to seven days. Before Katrina, it used to be for only three days, but this has been expanded to a week.
Older residents benefit by knowing what to have on hand to be able to take care of themselves for up to a week after a disaster. For example, they need to have food and water, a first aid kit and medications. They also need extra glasses, batteries for hearing aids and any mobility assistance. We are there for people to reach out about their personal situations, and we help people take advantage of the information resources so that they can be prepared.
In what ways does your work/organization help our older adults?
Our CERT classes are open to all residents and seniors are welcome. We have had several active 90-year olds take classes! We don’t teach any differently for older residents, and we are able to teach our classes to people that may have limitations.
The sad take-away from the Northern California wildfires is that a number of the people who died were older residents with mobility issues. The speed of the fire and that it occurred at night made it very difficult for people to help each other.
We emphasize that disaster preparedness is about being prepared and about neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors can check on their older neighbors, give people a ride, or help people who have difficulty getting out. Firefighters are fighting fires and doing what they can to assist with evacuation but it’s important for older residents to have a plan with family members and neighbors to assist them if necessary. Our Ready Seniors program offers guidelines and resources to help seniors plan and prepare for an emergency.
Please share one of your favorite stories:
I have two stories, both about women who took our CERT classes. They were able to utilize the skills they learned in the classes to put out small fires that would have become big fires if they hadn’t known what to do.
The first woman told me about a fire that started in a frying pan while she was cooking. She had never used a fire extinguisher before and, because of her CERT training, she was able to use it to put out the fire before it became a larger fire.
Then, during a class last spring, a woman told us about a fire that had started on the hillside behind her house. She grabbed her fire extinguisher, and knew enough to be able to put out the fire. She called the Fire Department, and they came out and said great job!
Both felt empowered enough to understand the situation and used the skills they had learned in the class to put these fires out.
Tell us about your/your organization’s involvement in Aging Action Initiative:
I stay informed through the website and newsletter. I enjoyed reading last month’s newsletter!
Specifically, tell us about your relationships/partnerships in the AAI network:
We work with the whole community! We worked with the Canal Welcome Center to establish a community emergency plan for the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael and Marin City. I personally attended the meetings with the Canal Emergency Preparedness Council and Marin City Disaster Council.
We also work with businesses, such as AutoDesk and Whole Foods, and non-profits such as Senior Access and Mill Valley Village. The members of the AAI network might like know about a business ready program we offer to help them be prepared. It’s called The Marin Business Emergency Readiness Program.
We have many community partners. A big partnership is with Marin County Medical Reserve Corps, which is a national program. It’s for people trained in medicine, public health, safety, logistics, project management, behavioral health, and other support areas to be part of a response team when needed.
What is your vision of an age-friendly Marin?
An age-friendly Marin is one where neighbors are aware of all the people in their neighborhood and are assisting people who are older. This includes people who may have mobility or language limitations, so they can be recognized and part of the community and not be isolated. An age-friendly Marin is one where neighbors are helping neighbors so everyone is included in everything.
Aging Action Initiative (AAI) is a collective effort of more than 65 different agencies, grassroots organizations, commission and neighborhood groups, funded by the County of Marin and coordinated by MARINSPACE, collaborating for an age-friendly environment. For more information visit agingactioninitiative.org or connect with us on Facebook.