Photo Credits: Jim Caesar

UC Santa Barbara is active in preparing college students for natural disasters and emergency situations. Campus Emergency Manager Jim Caesar and Climate Action Fellow Sofia Hernandez have relaunched the CERT program after a hiatus during COVID-19 to equip students with essential emergency preparedness skills, promote helping the community during natural hazards, and increase climate resilience. 

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a national program organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was first developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. The program launched nationwide after the Whittier Narrows earthquake in California revealed a need for community emergency response training. Other college campuses offer this training, but UC Santa Barbara is unique in that it is the only university that trains students to teach CERT through a Train the Trainer course after completing the basic CERT class. Liliana Encinas of Santa Barbara City Fire co-trains this 20 hour course which equips students to teach other students emergency preparedness.

The CERT program consists of three days of training and is open to students, staff, and faculty. The curriculum teaches vital “how tos” such as how to treat injuries, how to smell a gas leak, how to turn off the power, or how to respond to a hostile intruder situation. The training not only teaches participants about the origins of climate disasters specific to Santa Barbara such as fires and flooding, but equips participants with tangible skills to protect themselves and their community in times of crisis. UCSB’s CERT program partners with Santa Barbara County Fire Station 17 to provide hands-on training, allowing participants to extinguish a fire and practice lifting a person in need of medical attention. Participation in all three days of training can result in community service hours and an Emergency Preparedness Certification. 

Photo Credit: Jim Caesar

Over three Sundays in January and February twelve undergraduate students graduated from the CERT program where they trained for a better prepared campus. Some of these students are also seeking training to become certified instructors. These students gained not only fundamental emergency preparedness skills, but also a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about the safety of the UC Santa Barbara community. The CERT program will be offered again in the spring for individuals interested in disaster preparedness, sign up here. This program could greatly serve students in Greek Life, UCSB athletics, and other members of the Isla Vista and UCSB community an opportunity to aid their neighbors in times of crisis. 

Pictured: Jim Caesar (UCSB Campus Emergency Manager), Sofia Hernandez (UCSB Climate Action Fellow), Anthony Rodriguez (Santa Barbara County Food Bank), and Robert Strojek (American Red Cross & Santa Barbara CERT Committee)

Sofia Hernandez is a Climate Action Fellow heading the relaunch of this program alongside the Campus Emergency Manager, Jim Caesar. This year, Sofia completed training to become a certified CERT instructor and began teaching the course this winter quarter. A fourth year Environmental Studies student, Sofia is passionate about climate resiliency and science communication. By acknowledging both the mental and physical impacts of emergent disasters, Sofia wants to ensure human wellbeing in the midst of the ever-evolving climate crisis. Sofia is drawn to community based work and values the space CERT provides for members of the UC Santa Barbara community to discuss serious issues in the light of hope and positive change.

As a Climate Action Fellow, Sofia is also working on a Hazard Vulnerability Assessment with the UCSB Sustainability Department and Environmental Health & Safety Department. The Assessment is intended to guide each UC campus in evaluating disasters relevant to their campus location and the expected impacts those events would have on their community. This guide seeks to analyze the impact of climate disasters on technology, funding, mental health, and vulnerable communities. Sofia is also surveying students about the hazards they are most concerned about to ensure that student perspectives are seen throughout the Vulnerability Assessment. With the CERT Program and Hazard Vulnerability Assessment, UC Santa Barbara is prioritizing emergency preparedness in the face of a changing climate.