Berkeley prepares for citywide emergency drill

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Neighborhoods across the city of Berkeley will come together for the second annual citywide emergency drill on April 27.

Berkeley Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team organized the annual drill to promote community preparedness in the event of a disaster. The one-day event will include light search-and-rescue CERT classes and neighborhood group exercises.

“It can be an individual, community, business — it’s open to everybody,” said Aaron Lee, assistant fire chief at Berkeley Fire Department. “Last year, we had 900 participants. We’re trying to double that.”

The event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include a meeting at noon at the Frances Albrier Community Center to go over disaster preparation. The event also urges citizens to register for the Berkeley Emergency Notification System, a system that calls residents with alerts about city emergencies.

This year’s drill will focus on fire prevention and damage assessment, according to Matt Mitchell, a board member of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association. Neighborhood groups will participate in setting up a simulated command center, sending people to the fire department, checking home fire extinguishers and first-aid kits and performing simulated checks for building damage or injuries.

“When the earthquake hits, (people can) go around the neighborhood to see if everyone’s OK, put out the fires if they can,” Mitchell said.

CERT and the fire department have been spreading the word with banners around the city, sending thousands of fliers home with students and handing out pamphlets at senior centers, farmers markets and the BART station. Mitchell said that the city has had other smaller emergency drills in the past, but this is the best outreach attempt he has seen yet.

“This year, we’ve put out a greater effort,” Mitchell said.

The City Council has also been meeting to discuss how to spend funds that go toward spreading awareness about disaster preparedness and providing supply kits to caches around the city, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

“(Council members) are not just policymakers (but also) outreachers and community organizers,” Arreguin said.

Arreguin highlighted the lack of preparedness in West and South Berkeley due to the fact that emergency caches are predominantly distributed in the Berkeley Hills. He added that he and other council members are currently trying to let community members know about the citywide drill by sending out alerts on email lists and working with existing disaster-preparedness groups.

“By increasing funding, by doing more outreach and providing more research, we can do a better job of making sure our community is prepared in the event of a national disaster,” Arreguin said.

Contact Tara Hurley at [email protected].