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Making the community safe in times of disaster

Jada Rufo, with the Community Emergency Response Team, right, invites the community to sign up for a training program tentatively planned for next March from her monthly booth at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market in Waimea. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Jada Rufo, with the Community Emergency Response Team, right, invites the community to sign up for a training program tentatively planned for next March from her monthly booth at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market in Waimea. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Jada Rufo, right, speaks with visitors to the Community Emergency Response Team informational booth at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Jada Rufo, right, speaks with visitors to the Community Emergency Response Team informational booth at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Jada Rufo, with the Community Emergency Response Team, invites the community to sign up for a training program tentatively planned for next March, as she shares information with the public at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market on Nov. 2. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Jada Rufo, with the Community Emergency Response Team, invites the community to sign up for a training program tentatively planned for next March, as she shares information with the public at the Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market on Nov. 2. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

Waimea resident Jada Rufo remembers the exact time her life changed. It was May 12, 2008 at 2:28 p.m. Rufo was in an underground shopping mall in Sichuan Province, China, when an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck. As she left the mall, she spilled into a street lined with people and chaos. She expected to see officials and emergency responders directing the crowd, but no one ever came.

Stories of survival and heroism began to surface in the days after the disaster. Rufo recalls one story of a man who the media nicknamed “Runner Fan.”

“Runner Fan was a teacher at a local middle school that was totally demolished by the earthquake,” said Rufo. “Instead of saving his students, he elected to save himself by running to the open sports field. As a result, he was grilled by the media and Chinese citizens for his actions.”

When another earthquake hit China in August 2012, Rufo’s experience was even more personal. She was teaching class and had students in her care.

“I was having class with three middle school students in a newly built skyscraper,” she said. “I was on the 28th floor of a 29-storied building that was partially made of glass. My primary concern was my students’ safety, which is why I evacuated them first before leaving the building myself. I didn’t want to be another Runner Fan.”

It was then that Rufo made the decision to become involved in community disaster relief. Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services are not always able to meet the necessary demand. Depending on the severity of the emergency and unforeseen factors such as communication failures, or roadblocks, some people may be unable to access emergency services. In such cases, the community must depend on one another for assistance.

“I do not want to wander aimlessly looking for help or information in times of disaster, nor do I want to be a Runner Fan,” said Rufo. “I also don’t want to wait 80 hours for professional rescuers to arrive. I don’t want to be the problem. I want to be the solution.”

Last September, Rufo joined the Community Emergency Response Team. The CERT program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

“The truth is that there are more ordinary citizens than there are first responders,” said Rufo. “They are overwhelmed and stretched to their limits. And while I will always be grateful for their service, their sacrifice, and their dedication to my community, I believe that they could use a helping hand. When a disaster strikes they may not be able to get to the affected area in time. It is up to local residents like me to do the most good for the greatest amount of people.”

The national CERT website explains that local citizens who attend the CERT training will gain a broader understanding of the potential threats to their home, workplace and community. If a disaster happens that overwhelms local response capability, CERT members can apply the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to give critical support to their family, loved ones, neighbors or associates in their immediate area until help arrives.

Local government prepares for everyday emergencies, however a disaster can easily become unmanageable and overwhelm the community’s immediate response capability.

CERT gives community members the decision-making, organizational, and practical skills to offer immediate assistance to others without placing themselves in unnecessary danger.

The Hawaii County CERT Program supports Hawaii County’s overall goal of building “Community Resilience.” Because Hawaii county has 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones, it ranks first out of all U.S. counties for potential hazardous impacts. Therefore, being prepared for the expected is essential. For more information on how to receive CERT training, contact Bill Hanson at Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency at 935-0031 or whanson@co.hawaii.hi.us.

“Get involved,” said Rufo. “If there’s a CERT training in your area sign-up, because you never know when a disaster will come.”