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When a disaster strikes, help may not come quickly.

It is a painful lesson pounded home over and over again, one all too recent for residents of Texas communities ravaged by Hurricane Harvey two weeks ago — and one that looms directly ahead for people still in the path of Hurricane Irma.

In Sonoma County, some citizens aren’t waiting for a catastrophe to learn this lesson the hard way. Instead, they are banding together to prepare their communities in advance for the isolation and injuries that can follow a major earthquake or other natural disaster.

“I need to take care of myself. I need to take care of my family, and this is a great avenue to follow through,” said Linda Stout, who coordinates a civilian emergency response team formed in Bodega Bay.

The Bodega Bay group, one of hundreds of such teams across the nation established under guidelines by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is the largest team of its kind in Sonoma County. Its 75 members have been certified in basic skills of search and rescue, fire suppression, triage, disaster psychology and other disciplines outlined in FEMA curriculum.

The idea is empowering individuals to secure their families and homes, before reaching out to neighbors and the broader community when first responders like firefighters and paramedics might be overcommitted or impeded from reaching affected areas. Known as Community Emergency Response Teams, these civilian squads also assist professionals if the opportunity allows.

“We are the boots on the ground for them,” Stout said.

The Bodega Bay team, with about 15 years of experience and organization, is the most robust example of a CERT program in Sonoma County, though it is not alone.

Residents of Sea Ranch have created an extensive disaster preparation and response plan with street-by-street damage and injury assessment, medical volunteers and three well-supplied staging/shelter locations, according to its website.

In flood-prone Guerneville, residents began creating a CERT program two years ago modeled on the Bodega Bay initiative. It has 22 members, including five nurses, a retired sheriff’s deputy and a retired firefighter, though anyone willing to commit to monthly training sessions is welcome.

The team includes neighboring communities like Cazadero, Forestville and Rio Nido. The goal is for each community to have two or three members, at least, so they can partner with trained individuals, said Marilyn Fox, a retired clinical psychologist who serves as the team’s volunteer coordinator.

“You do not work alone,” Fox said.

The city of Santa Rosa has pursued an alternative course, using its COPE program ­— short for Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies — to help neighborhoods coordinate disaster preparedness and planning. Part of the process may involve identifying residents’ expertise, equipment and resources that may be useful after a catastrophe, though there is no particular training or certification involved.

The system is set up to give neighborhood volunteers full control, so they are self-reliant and can operate independently of city representatives, said Assistant Santa Rosa Fire Marshal Paul Loewenthal, who coordinates community outreach for the COPE program.

“It’s training residents to basically interact with their neighborhood and figure out what their needs are, figure out how to support one another, and it can be as extensive or as elaborate as they like,” Loewenthal said.

Despite the urging of state and federal emergency officials and frequent reminders of the region’s vulnerability to wildfires, quakes and floods, the CERT movement has found limited success in Sonoma County. Fledgling movements elsewhere in the county have fizzled out.

“It’s been hard work,” said Stout, a retired interior decorator and one-time biology teacher. “I will be the first to tell you that.”

Stout and her late husband got involved in what was then a well-established disaster preparedness effort in the Bodega Harbour subdivision a decade ago, but believed strongly it needed to encompass the larger Bodega Bay community.

Motivation comes, in part, from the remoteness of the coastal hamlet, which lies atop the San Andreas Fault, according to Stout and board member Patty Ginochio. The community is likely to be cut off in the event of an earthquake, with residents and tourists at risk.

The Bodega Bay CERT is heavily focused on ensuring its members are able to communicate via ham radio, often the last working mode of communication in the wake of catastrophe. The team has more than 60 licensed ham radio operators, many of whom gather weekly to practice.

In Bodega Bay, CERT participants also help residents assemble “go bags” and disaster preparedness kits for home and car, selling starter kits to those who need a push.

Aligned with the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District as its government sponsor, the organization has eight supply sheds strategically staged in neighborhoods, storing everything from stretchers to emergency generators. It also raised enough money a few years ago to buy a Red Cross trailer filled with emergency equipment and arrange training necessary to set up a Red Cross shelter.

“We first tell everybody that they need to be personally prepared not to expect that somebody’s going to be able to take care of them,” Ginochio said.

In an era of declining volunteerism, there is no shortage of challenges to launch and maintain an organization dependent on strong grassroots support and enthusiastic leadership, Sonoma County Emergency Coordinator Zach Hamill said.

Federal preparedness grants available in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks funded training sessions for a few dozen people in Sonoma and Napa counties, leading to several new CERT programs around the region in Petaluma, Sebastopol, Timber Cove and elsewhere. Most have struggled and been abandoned, Hamill said.

“Unless you have a strong community leader/volunteer who wants to do CERT and gets the community energized and organized about it, it doesn’t seem to pan out well,” he said.

CERT training includes fundamentals like turning off gas service and other utilities when disaster strikes; diagnosis and treatment of an obstructed airway, bleeding or shock; and practice using lumber and blocks to raise or move debris that’s fallen on someone. Participants also learn proper use of a fire extinguisher, and how to assess a fire to determine whether it’s still small enough to douse with on-hand supplies.

There’s also emphasis on learning to recognize one’s limitations.

“It is hazard identification,” Hamill said. “Do you see electrical lines arcing or do you smell gas? Is the building creaking and shifting and moving? Identifying some of that so that you can stay safe.”