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Open Letter to LAFD Interim Chief Featherstone: ‘Change Doesn’t Come From Edicts on High’

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NEIGHBORHOODS LA-Last November, in an article for CityWatch ‘Change: Uncomfortable But Necessary’  I lauded the Los Angeles Fire Department for its drastic change in attitude by reaching out to our community asking LA residents to take a survey to help develop a “strategic” plan and pledging to “partner” with the community. 

LAFD’s Chief John Drake and Captain Kristin Crowley made an excellent presentation to a number of Neighborhood Council (NC’s) meetings. (See photo.) 

Perhaps they neglected to let the LAFD Emergency Services Division know about this new approach. 

Police Chief Beck recently pointed out that change doesn’t come from “edicts on high”. It needs to be permeated throughout all of the levels of the Police Force. Perhaps Chief Featherstone, this approach might be necessary with the Fire Department.  

Your background is in Emergency Services and everyone I’ve spoken with, says you are “really a good guy” and the right person for the job at this time. Maybe partnering with the community should be more than just crowd pleaser in a verbal presentation. 

LAFD Emergency Services had an excellent opportunity to prove its new intentions and be part of a terrific public/private partnership.  They agreed to support , took advantage of all the publicity and good PR and then three weeks before the Community Emergency Response Team- otherwise known as CERT Boot Camp Training event (which will be held this weekend) told the organizers that the four CERT instructors wouldn’t train unless they received $5000 for the weekend.    

A little background is necessary. In July 2013 Councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced a resolution (13-0910), which was approved by the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mitch Englander. It called for the Fire Department and Emergency Services to support a program where 10% of the population of Los Angeles - equal to 400,000 people - would train as volunteers for disaster preparedness. 

Even with the LAFD $500 million dollar annual budget, conducting training for that vast number was more than a little ambitious. The Tarzana Neighborhood Council Public Safety Committee talked to their four other NC colleagues in District 3, and put together a CD3 Public Safety Coalition with the full support of Councilmember Blumenfield. 

Subsequently, they also involved several other organizations and it is now called the Community Development Public Safety Coalition and is expanding its knowledge and resources to the rest of Los Angeles. Their mandate is to help train those 400,000 people. 

The first major event for the Coalition was held last October at the Woodland Hills Westfield Mall and drew a wide public audience as well as many representatives from various Public Safety agencies.  At that event, talks began with Captain Keith Scott, and Captain Christopher Cooper, Coordinators of the CERT Unit.  They discussed organizing a CERT 2-Day Intensive Training weekend in Los Angeles on April 12-13. The usual CERT training of 17 to 18 hours, is over a seven-week period. Most people don’t have that kind of time to commit to disaster preparedness training. 

The CD3 Coalition noted that CERT, a federal program under the direction of FEMA, allows some communities to accomplish the training in a two-day intensive weekend. With successful events including several Public Safety Fairs, community events, town halls and disaster drills under their belt, the Coalition decided more CERT-centric Trainings needed to be done if they were going to help train a large enough core group. 

CD3 decided to partner with BMP (Be More Prepared), the owners of Critical Care Training Unit, and AreYouReadyUSA.com to sponsor a CERT 2-Day Intensive Volunteer Training Boot Camp. This Boot Camp was targeted to the 90% of the community that did not attend the traditional 7-week CERT Course offered by the LAFD. 

It submitted official requests to LAFD in January and was given a verbal okay. The proposed program was a Public Private-Sector Partnership with the LAFD supplying the CERT Instructors and the Supply Trailer with the Coalition providing everything else. The training program was free for volunteers. Lt. Col. Ted Arlauskas, Commander of the CA Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys opened his facility for the event. 

More than 100 people signed up, forty of them from South Central Los Angeles. Four weeks ago Captain Cooper informed the Coalition that they would have to pay the instructors time and a half or $1200 to each of four instructors... surprise, surprise! Payments had never been part of the conversation. 

LAFD had been included in all of the extensive publicity. They received copies of all flyers, news releases etc., and never once in the five months of planning ever indicated there was a charge or it wasn’t in “the budget”. Captain Scott was out the month of January for medical reasons and perhaps that was the reason emails and phone calls to the  Emergency Services Department were not returned.  Late March was a little late to try and raise an additional $5,000. 

HOW TO MAKE LEMONADE OUT OF LEMONS? 

This weekend the LAFD DHS DAC (Disaster Awareness Course) 2-Day Part Of “Intensive Awareness & Preparedness Boot Camp Public Safety” event will take place greatly expanded. In multiple ways, this volunteer Disaster Preparedness event may be more useful than just CERT Training. 

According to Nathan Wolfstein, Chair of the Los Angeles Community Action Team (LA CAT) for Emergency & Disaster Preparedness, sponsored by Councilmember Blumenfield’s office, and CD3 Public Safety Coalition, “We are including many different strategies this weekend to make sure that our volunteers have enough knowledge to save lives. They will get dynamic training in how to survive, and not become a victim. 

That is not part of the CERT program - CERT is important but not everything. Awareness & Preparedness are keys to surviving a major whole community disaster. 

“The goal is to get 10% of that 400,000 magic figure to be CERT trained, and designate them as the “Delta Force” of trained whole community volunteers. The other 90% of the 400,000 volunteers, will command procedures within different areas of expertise. The object is to save lives and not become victims themselves. 

The Coalition plans to have monthly events throughout Los Angeles tailoring the program to the specific neighborhoods. Just getting CERT training and not having interactive refresher events, does not fully support the purpose of volunteer training.” 

So, Chief Featherstone... other organizations stepped in to fill the LAFD void, They include: West Valley LAPD; LAFD Homeland Security Alliance; CHP West Valley; Los Angeles EMD; ARES LAX; Be MorePrepared; California National Guard Van Nuys; AreYouReadyUSA.com; Critical Care Training Unit; Neighborhood Councils in CD3 and CD12. 

You might want to visit the CD3 Public Safety Coalition website at www.CD3-PSC.com. I’m sure they would be happy to welcome you as a visitor to “Be Disaster Aware and Prepared” this weekend.

In doing some research for this article, I discovered that the Neighborhood Councils had proposed a citywide Disaster Plan right after their initial formation.  It never got off the ground because each City Department involved was too territorial. Hopefully, under the Garcetti Administration that attitude has changed. 

It makes sense to carry Disaster Preparedness training on a neighborhood basis.  Emergencies, whether they are earthquakes, floods, terrorism attacks etc., are far easier to manage in a defined territory.  I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this story.

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As an aside, who says that being on the Neighborhood Council doesn’t justify hazard pay? As you may know, Monday night a gunman opened fire on an officer in the lobby of the West Traffic Division, right outside the room where the Olympic Park Neighborhood Council was meeting at the time. The officer survived the attack and was able to return fire. The assailant is in critical condition. None of the residents participating in the OPNC meeting were injured. 

Keep those comments coming!

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a Contributor to CityWatch covering policies, events and foibles in NC land.  She is also the Co-Chair of the LA Neighborhood Congress Work Shop Committee and a stakeholder in the Tarzana Neighborhood Council.  She can be reached at [email protected]-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 30

Pub: Apr 11, 2014