An all-volunteer effort to organize the Coastside by neighborhoods to prepare for a natural disaster is taking shape. 

Earlier this year, Half Moon Bay residents Emily Kim and Cynthia Sherrill worked to compile a database of neighborhoods from Devil’s Slide to Tunitas Creek Road. Interested residents who wanted to get involved provided their information and relevant skills, like amateur radio or Community Emergency Response Team training. 

“Our Coastside knows we are going to be in a bind and we have to prepare ourselves and ensure that we can work together effectively and efficiently,” Kim said. 

Kim and Sherrill are co-managers of the two branches of CERT on the Coastside. CERT is a nationwide program that trains civilians to prepare and react during an emergency. Coastide Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Dave Cosgrave teaches the CERT program on the Coastside. 

Earlier this spring, the fire district became the sponsor of the two branches of CERT that cover the Midcoast and Half Moon Bay. Since that time, branches I and II received a grant from the state to teach more residents the CERT curriculum and also offer a grassroots disaster preparedness program tailored to meet the needs of individuals in the Spanish-speaking communities.  While Kim and Sherrill are active in managing the CERT program, they are also facilitating the neighborhood outreach. They realize that not everyone involved in the neighborhood efforts will be trained in CERT, but they want to encourage that training. 

“So, the idea is the CERT program and the neighborhoods become synergistic as we work towards emergency preparedness,” Sherrill said. 

Last week Kim and Sherrill hosted three community meetings to start the process and prepare each individual neighborhood.

Each neighborhood would designate one or more people as a lead or captain, whose primary responsibility will be to get people together and organize the neighborhood based on its priorities during a disaster. 

“The first step is to make sure your neighbors are prepared. The next is to have a plan for the neighborhood when disaster strikes. Is there are rally point? Do you have a communication plan?” Sherrill said. “What are your neighborhood priorities for resiliency?” 

Sherrill explained that in some neighborhoods preparing specifically for wildfires is a concern. For others, the fear is focused on how to prevent flooding. 

“It’s this top-down approach. The fire district provides the formal training, through CERT, and then you have the neighborhoods come together to become resilient if they need to be,” Sherrill said. 

A nonprofit in San Francisco launched a similar program in 2014 known as “Neighborfest.” 

Launched in 2014, it works by helping neighborhoods set up a block party to bring communities together to plan for emergencies. The program provides worksheets to assist residents with creating a map of their neighborhood and listing needs and priorities. One exercise the program offers is  “Map your Resilientville.” Sherrill and Kim are using some of the basic concepts from the San Francisco-based program to replicate a comparable plan on the Coastside.

Cosgrave was in attendance on June 24 for the first meeting with a few of the neighborhoods. More than 40 people were in attendance. 

“It’s building on what CERT is,” Cosgrave said. “The goal is a resilient community.” 

“It’s social cohesion. If we know each other before the disaster strikes, we will know how and who to help,” Sherrill said. 

Cosgrave is scheduled to teach the next CERT class in July, with two additional classes planned for sometime in the fall. 

Kim and Sherrill are hopeful once the neighborhoods start hosting their own meetings, they can take a back seat and let the individual groups drive their own success. 

“Being prepared for long self-sufficiency is the name of the game,” Sherrill said. “And that’s the basic building block for emergency preparedness.” 

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