Earthquake (Talk) Kicks Off CERT Session


Since 1994, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) has been implemented nationwide, preparing ordinary citizens for the possibility of disaster.

Classes in CERT training take place locally about twice a year. The most recent training began Saturday morning at the Crescenta Valley Church, the first day of a five-day session.

Margaret Vinci from the Caltech Seismological Laboratory joined the group to discuss the likelihood of a major earthquake in Southern California and how best to protect oneself and one’s family from harm should “the Big One” occur.

Vinci said that the possibility of a major earthquake was high. Any sort of accurate prediction would be difficult to ascertain, but the likelihood of a quake can be surmised by studying fault lines.

“It’s not a matter of if [an earthquake is coming], it’s when,” said Vinci.

Vinci said that 24 of Southern California’s 300 known fault lines are capable of large, damaging earthquakes.

Precedent exists for a large earthquake in Southern California. Vinci said patterns of earthquakes over time have shown that California has a large earthquake about once every 150 years. While northern and central California have had major earthquakes since 1850, Southern California has not had a major earthquake since the 1600s. According to Caltech’s statistics, there is a 97% chance of an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 6.7 to occur within the next 30 years.

“It will happen,” said Vinci. “It has to because of the movement of the plates.”

Caltech projections based on earthquake simulations and other earthquakes in similar areas predict about 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $213 billion in damage. Many more people are predicted to be displaced from their homes for a variety of reasons and unable to return until a large amount of earthquake damage is contained. Additionally, utilities such as water and electricity may not be restored as quickly as expected, so having food and water reserves is important.

Vinci stressed being “self-sufficient,” highlighting one of CERT’s primary lessons: that emergency services will not necessarily be available during a major disaster.

“We have to get past the mindset of, ‘We’re going to wait for the government. They’ll be here in one or two days.’ That is not going to happen,” she said.

CERT training emphasizes survival skills, assuming that emergency services will not be available. The training covers what to have on hand during a disaster, as well as developing a disaster plan with one’s family and neighborhood.

Vinci’s recommendation was not to be prepared to be on one’s own for only one or two days, but for seven to 10 days or perhaps even months.

Vinci recommended that buildings be retrofitted to better protect against earthquake hazards. Vinci described how earthquakes could result in actual pieces of land moving and showed pictures taken after earthquakes of houses standing about 20 to 30 feet away from the picket fences surrounding the yard.

“This is why people need to bolt their houses to the foundation,” she advised. “Your house will go one way, the earth goes the other way.”

Despite Vinci’s talk centering on earthquakes, she noted that many disastrous events are related, such as tsunamis that can be generated by earthquake activity. Vinci used the example of tsunamis approaching the Pacific coast of America, generated by large earthquakes in Japan.

Of course, though, the biggest risk for Southern California remains earthquakes. Vinci explained the numerous amenities that people should have on hand in the case of a major disaster, points stressed throughout the duration of the CERT training. These items include drinking water, food, plenty of gas (for the car and for powering items when electricity is not available), phone numbers (should your phone battery run out), copies of important documents which could be lost, anything used daily that is not regularly kept in your car and even comfort items.

“Together, we can prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe,” she said.

Visit for information on CERT classes and training or call coordinators Paul or Lisa Dutton at (818) 249-8378.