WALNUT CREEK -- If you live in central Contra Costa County and a shaker rolls down a nearby fault line, or a local wildfire exceeds the power of human resistance, you'll be thanking Dick DuBey and those who he has trained and directed as part of Walnut Creek's Community Emergency Response Team.
Walnut Creek boasts central Contra County's first CERT team, established by a Citizen Corps Council in 2003. Since 2004, more than 1,400 citizens have received training to be volunteer partners in the event of a disaster.
From the beginning, CERT was a joint program of the City of Walnut Creek and the Contra Costa Fire Protection District; the fire district provided the training and the city recruited the students and managed the program. However, due to budget issues, the fire district discontinued providing the trainers. That is when DuBey stepped up and offered to be the volunteer training coordinator for the City of Walnut Creek.
Years earlier, DuBey and Gayle Vassar -- Walnut Creek's communications and outreach manager -- worked hard to recruit and train a dedicated and supportive battalion of volunteer citizens. DuBey said Vassar's charisma and knowledgeable command of emergency operations attracts volunteers.
Although his day job took up most of his time before he retired, CERT appealed to his military instincts, and to his inner rebel.
"I had few hobbies until I got into CERT," he said, "but it became like a part-time job before long."
Located in local parks, seven of eight CERT staging areas (a Rossmoor site is close to completion) now have dedicated storage facilities equipped with "Quick Start" boxes, in which tools and a list of protocols are cached. These enable each volunteer unit to establish a command post outside of the 10-by-20-foot steel shipping containers that hold canopies, cots, first aid supplies, sanitation disposal receptacles, lighting equipment, generators and basic food supplies for the volunteers.
Most importantly, a $12,500 AT&T Foundation grant and $1,000 from Walnut Creek Rotary Club means every command post has a standardized HAM communications system.
"Early on, it became clear we needed our own communications ability," DuBey said. "Cell phones are the first victims of a disaster."
DuBey, 75, a Walnut Creek resident since 1981, remembers practicing for air
raids during World War II. "I remember the jubilation of the war finally being over, even though my parents never described the horrors, for fear of frightening me," he said.
Living through the assassination of John F. Kennedy and watching the country become embroiled in Vietnam and "come unraveled and lose our way," he says, was tragic. More recent traumas, like 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, are less the reason he became involved in CERT than is the 27-year commitment he made to the Army Reserve while working as director of marketing for NSTC/Farmtec, a spraying equipment company he co-owned. DuBey's stint in the United States Army left him thinking they could do better if they were more progressive, but the volunteer reserve -- where authority couldn't be used as persuasion -- was more to his liking.
"CERT is like the Army Reserve system, where no one person is greater than the whole," he says. "But when I came on, I was turned off by the training. They were just delivering lectures, then turning people out."
Vassar invited DuBey to transform the curriculum. Today, the 20-hour, six-week biannual basic training course includes not only PowerPoint presentations on disaster preparedness, fire safety, terrorism, search and rescue, medical operations and team organization, but hands-on drills as well.
"We activate them. We run search and rescues, have them operate a fire extinguisher, clear debris," DuBey says.
"You can read a book, but if you have to deal with someone who's been moulaged (theatrical makeup applied) so they have blood spurting out of a compound fracture and they're screaming ... well, that's a lot better."
And then there are the eight-hour "HAM Crams." DuBey and his fellow Saturday Ham Radio Group operators have trained and licensed more than 50 ham operators.
"People are of the opinion that in a disaster, someone else will take care of them. I was raised to think, 'If it is to be, it must be me,' " he said. "Waiting for someone else to do it is setting yourself up for failure."
Vassar credits DuBey with building a sense of community and a training structure that insures high retention rates. DuBey deflects the compliments, saying, "It's not about me" and expressing gratitude that he and Vassar are "a good mix," without political ambition.
Both offer high praise for CERT graduates: DuBey says they are "patriots who love this country, offer to aid others and rise like the cream in milk."
After several years coordinating CERT training and with a five-year strategic plan through 2018 in place, DuBey will pass his mantle to Michele Richards, the city's part-time Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
He's putting his home up for sale and moving to Rossmoor with Carol, his wife of 38 years. With 10 grandchildren and a yen for travel, he'll still be a Saturday Ham Radio Group operator, but will leave CERT training to the next generation of disaster preparedness heroes.