The Neighborhood Team Program keeps communities safe

By Sebastian Lipstein

A shattering 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City in 1985, killing 10,000 people and destroying thousands of buildings and homes. An investigation team from the Los Angeles City Fire Department conducted research and found out that amid the chaos, citizens acted as first responders and saved 800 lives over a 15-day period.

A year later, impressed by the effort of the Mexican people yet concerned about the lack of preparation and coordination, now-late assistant fire chief Frank Borden spearheaded a program that would teach community members how to act and organize themselves in case of an earthquake, evacuation or fires.

The program eventually became CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), and in 1993, it became a nationwide program recognized by the federal government. Beyond the United States, official CERT training is also offered in at least six other countries.

Prior to COVID-19, the LAFD offered in-person classes for CERT certification. However, since the pandemic, the LAFD has halted that.

CERT has brought back the Neighborhood Team Program, which was created in CERT Battalion 18 about 10 years ago. The program is for CERT-trained and non-CERT-trained members, and is designed to get to the block level, forming teams that are emergency prepared. The training is done via Zoom and online manuals.

“What we have come up with is an online course for the people who are interested in emergency preparedness and not necessarily CERT, called the Neighborhood Team Program,” said Jose Morataya, CERT coordinator for Battalion 4, a region that encompasses Westchester, Playa/LAX, Mar Vista, Venice and Del Rey.

The program consists of six lecture modules consisting of the following: Neighborhood Preparedness & Organization; Personal and Family Preparedness; Disaster First Aid; Light Search & Rescue; Two-Way Radio Operations; and Neighborhood Security & Situational Awareness.

They work with neighborhood councils, business groups and homeowners associations to create neighborhood teams. They host in-person pop-up trainings and group activities to teach people how to respond and act in case of an emergency

Scientists are expecting a high-magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas Fault known as “The Big One” that is decades overdue. Additionally, Southern California is prone to earthquakes, fires and heat waves. In case of a major emergency, the community needs to be self-reliant.

The NTP website is also a useful resource with information about radio skills, fire suppression, how to organize in case of an emergency, and other things that may come in handy when “The Big One” hits.

“In a time of emergency, LAFD, LAPD, or any emergency services are going to be unavailable for some time, so any neighborhood is going to be on their own for a period of time,” Morataya said. “If a power outage happens, communication goes down.

In a major earthquake you’re going to lose a lot more than just power, like collapsed buildings and homes. You have to be prepared to be on your own.”

Neighborhood Team