Have you thought about what you would do if there were an emergency on your block?  No, I don’t mean Mr. Pickles being kidnapped or El Farolito closing early. What would you do if there were an earthquake, flood in your building, or power outage in your home?

Do you know how to use a fire extinguisher, turn off your gas, or have the cell phone numbers to your next-door neighbors? If your answers are no the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) offers free emergency preparedness classes by professional firefighters.

The team held a session Tuesday night at the Mission District Fire Department where preparation focused on how to be self- reliant during an emergency situation.

San Francisco currently has a 62 percent chance of having an earthquake greater than 6.7 over the next 30 years, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The Response Team warned that if and when this happens citizens could be left on their own for the first 72 hours.

“ It kinda freaks you out, but motivates you at the same time,” said Lisa Wisniewski a Mission District residents who attended the meeting. Wisniewski said she wants to become NERT certified, which requires 20 hours of training with in six classes. “ I will have a better sense of mind knowing that some one is prepared in my neighborhood.”

The goal of the program is to develop neighborhood teams that are trained in multiple types of basic emergency skills. There are already teams started in the Mission District, Mission Dolores, and Noe Valley areas.

In the meantime, trainer and fire fighter Erika Arteseros offered some tips.

“One of the best things you can do is set up a “go bag,” in the case that you are forced to leave your house quickly,” Arteseros said.  In 2007 a rockslide in North Beach meant residents were forced to do just that.

And while most of San Francisco’s tiny studio apartments don’t allow for room to store extra supplies it may be time to set yourself up with what one participant described as, “Everything you might need for a week at Burning Man.”

This includes a sleeping bag, toilet paper, first aid kit, radio, and even your favorite hair gel. “I would buy a $15 dollar backpack from Mission Street and fill it with all those things you wouldn’t want to be stranded without,” said Arteseros as she showcased the her own personal emergency kit.

NERT Trainer Erika Arteseros pulls out her personal emergency kit
NERT Trainer Erika Arteseros pulls out her emergency kit

One of the easiest and important things to stash is cash. Arteseros said that during a disaster situation “Nothing is guaranteed to work,” and this includes ATM’s. You should also include a roll of quarters and locate your closest payphone. These days we have become so dependant on our cell phones that most renters don’t even have landlines.

Another tip: Scan all of your identification documents and save them on a memory disk that you keep in your go bag or email them to yourself so that you always have access to personal identification no matter what happens.

And while high heels and fancy shoes are the norm on Valencia St., plain old sneakers will be your savior in the case that Muni’s stalled.

But most importantly: Get to know your neighbors. “ In an emergency situation it is important for the community to work together and be cohesive,” said Arteseros.

The 1989, San Francisco earthquake, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and recent swine flu scare in Mexico were all instances when citizens acted as first responders to emergency situations and neighbors became dependant on one another.

Arteseros explained the particular need for training San Francisco residents, “As frequent renters with small apartments it is not uncommon for us to be lacking the supplies we may need or knowledge about our community.”

That is especially true in the Mission District, which has the highest concentration of renters in the city– 82 percent compared to the citywide figure of 65 percent, according the Mission Economic Development Agency.

Arteseros said one of the biggest concerns for the Mission District is the information language barrier for monolingual Spanish speakers.  Only 42 percent of the district’s residents report speaking English at home, compared to 55 percent citywide, according to the 2000 Census.  “Having people that don’t speak English may be a hazard in itself,” she said.

Currently the city contracted emergency radio system KCBS gives emergency information reports in English only. Arteseros says there is a need for Spanish bilingual speakers to become NERT certified so that they can help organize Spanish speakers during a crisis. Currently there is no NERT training offered in Spanish.

Even so, the Mission District NERT has both English and Spanish speaking leaders. The team which meets about once a month is currently formulating a disaster response plan and a map of hazards and resources within the neighborhood. As of today the emergency staging site for the group is Parque Ninos Unidos located at 23rd St., between Folsom and Treat St,.


Mission Neighborhood Emergency Response Team:

Para espanol contactar a Consuelo Garcia: P: 415.290.3993

For English, contact Kevin Ward, P:415. 699. 6845

Join Mission District NERT Yahoo! Group

San Francisco Safe:

can help you develop a neighborhood crime watch
P: 415.673.SAFE,

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  1. Hi!
    Thanks so much for this article. If you are interested in spreading the word, free training by the SF Fire Dept. will start in April in Valencia Gardens for anyone interested. (pdf is here…

    The citywide drill looks like it will be April 17’th, Everett Middle School, 9am.

    Lastly, I think the link to the Yahoo Group is dead, but here’s an updated location…

    Thank you SOOO much and please feel free to send any suggestions on how to recruit, I have no idea what I’m doing!