City Restarts Emergency Training in Ingleside

Aaron Williams

The recent images of earthquake damage in Haiti and Chile raise chilling questions about whether the Ingleside District is prepared for a similar quake.

Though the district sits on solid rock, a powerful quake could cut off city services, leaving residents on their own to fight fires and help injured neighbors.

The city offers Neighborhood Emergency Response Team training so that citizens can learn what to do, but questions remain about how effective NERT will be during an actual earthquake.

First, despite its 12,000 active members in San Francisco, NERT isn’t well known.

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Robert Ross, who has lived in the Ingleside for 32 years. He said he hasn’t felt a need to seek emergency training because nobody has made it “readily apparent” that people need it.

“It feels really disconnected out there,” said fire Lt. Erica Arteseros, program coordinator for NERT. “I haven’t really known who all the players are. I don’t have any professional marketing for the program. It’s all word of mouth.”

20-year History
NERT started in the Marina District in 1990 because residents wanted to feel more prepared for a disaster. Fire destroyed a multistory apartment building in the Marina during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

Some new homeowners in the Ingleside have taken training, but Arteseros said the majority of residents are under-prepared, primarily because family resources aren’t as abundant.

NERT has since trained 19,700 people citywide and plans to train another 2,200 people, according to Arteseros. But only about 60 percent remain active.

Members helped to clean-up the Cosco-Busan oil spill in 2007, and also helped with wildfire fighting in Southern California. However, their quake-recovery skills remain untested.

NERT is coming to the Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center on March 16 for the first time in a few years to kick off what the program hopes will be a new beginning of disaster preparedness in neighborhoods like the OMI - Ocean View, Merced Heights and the Ingleside. A full schedule of NERT training through April 20 is located on the Fire
Department’s web site.

“This will give us an opportunity to test the OMI coalition and see where everyone is at,” Arteseros said.

Cultural Challenge
NERT offers classes in English, Spanish and Cantonese, but about half the Ingleside’s residents are foreign-born and speak many other languages. Arteseros hopes bilingual city service workers will take the training and help bridge language barriers.

Another concern is the age of NERT participants. Arteseros estimated that the average age of NERT members is 40. NERT worked with Balboa High School’s JROTC and Science majors at City College to help train younger volunteers.

Apathy is a big obstacle. Ross said people feel that earthquakes are so powerful that preparation is superfluous, and he isn’t alone in that thought.

David Younge, business entrepreneur and owner of Discount Hookah on Ocean Avenue, wasn’t worried about earthquake preparedness despite the thousands of dollars of glass merchandise in his store front.

“I owned a night club in San Rafael and during the Loma Prieta earthquake. I lost three bottles. That’s it.” Younge said. “I got through that one. I’m just going to take my chances. Talk to me after. I’ll be sorry then.”

Myth Busting
Arteseros admitted it’s hard to predict how effective NERT will be during an earthquake.

She said NERT has worked to create a community infrastructure that kept members trained through recertification, consistent training sessions, a stronger database of members and collaborating more with currently community organizations.

“I work a lot harder on busting the myth that it’s a resource to you,” Arteseros said. “Before you put responsibility on your neighbor, think about how much responsibility you’d be willing to take on for the whole neighborhood.”