By Pablo Jaime Sainz
When Sean Duggan completed his Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training at the San Diego Fire Department he was shown a map of San Diego County. He had to pick an area where he would like to volunteer and train others in disaster preparedness. The map was full of pins, each pin representing a CERT-trained volunteer in the communities.
He noticed that East County communities, especially those affected by the 2003 fires, were covered with pins.
Duggan then looked south and noticed something that caught his attention. All of San Ysidro had only one pin.
“Right away I said, ‘I want to go to San Ysidro!’” Duggan said. “I thought that it was the community that needed the most attention but received the least.”
Last August, 56-year-old Duggan began his year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer with the organization San Diego Volunteer.
His goal is to improve disaster preparedness in San Diego County.
For the last four months, the National City resident has began to knock doors around San Ysidro asking organizations and institutions if they would be interested in being part of the San Ysidro Disaster Preparedness Task Force.
The task force has two main purposes, Duggan said:
1. To provide basic disaster awareness and education to San Ysidro residents.
2. To inform San Ysidro residents of what they can expect from local authorities in case of a major disaster.
“In disasters, every community benefits when at least someone knows how to react,” Duggan said. “The training will answer the questions, ‘How do I protect myself and help others?’ and ‘What can I expect from authorities?’”
He added that San Ysidro is a low-income, underseved community with a high concentration of Hispanics.
“It has not received its ‘fair share’ of disaster awareness and education training,” he said. “We do not want what happened in New Orleans with Hurricare Katrina to happen in San Ysidro when the community is involved in a major disaster.”
Duggan said that examples of major disasters are large fires, earthquakes, disease outbreaks such as avian flu, and terrorism attacks.
He said that in addition to a lack of disaster preparedness in San Ysidro, language and immigration status can become barriers in case of a disaster in the community.
“I remember hearing on the news that many people were deported in New Orleans because they came out to help others. My guess is that many San Ysidro residents wouldn’t want to help their neighbors in case of a disaster for fear that they might be deported,” Duggan said.
He said he’s been success-full in establishing the task force and launching a program that will get basic education into all of the schools in the San Ysidro School District in the coming year. Bilingual Red Cross volunteers will give out presentations to children in Spanish and English.
“We have the support from the community’s major social service organizations, all of its churches, and a lot of its major residential/apartment complexes,” Duggan said.
Some of the organizations that have shown support to this program are the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, and the San Ysidro School District, he added.
Duggan said that, once the project gets going, his goal is to have one one-hour training session each month at different locations in San Ysidro. Some of them will be in English, some of them in Spanish, he said.
He added that sometime this year he’s planning to have a Disaster Awareness Day in San Ysidro, where people can get basic information about the San Ysidro Disaster Preparedness Task Force and its programs.
“Hurricane Katrina showed us that low-income communities are the ones who lose more lives during a disaster. Higher-income people lose property, but they don’t lose their lives. Poor people with no training about disaster preparedness are the ones who die the most in a disaster,” he said.
Duggan said he believes San Ysidro residents shouldn’t depend on anybody else for help if a disaster strikes, not even authorities.
“We have to do it ourselves,” he said.