When the Northridge earthquake struck 20 years ago, emergency city services — ambulance, fire, police — were under heavy strain, with extremely high call volume. As in any disaster, many people in need of assistance simply could not be helped quickly.
And when the next big one hits, that’s where Hatzolah of Los Angeles hopes to play a role.
The volunteer ambulance corps, established here in 2001, is designed to supplement Los Angeles’ emergency resources in heavily Jewish neighborhoods. Its services could be especially helpful in the case of a natural disaster.
“When we drill, we pretend that there are zero resources available from the city,” Hatzolah spokesman David Bacall said.
With three ambulances, five authorized emergency vehicles, disaster supply trucks, generators, fuel and nearly 100 emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, Bacall said Hatzolah is equipped to simultaneously run up to three casualty collection points (CCPs) — mobile, outdoor hospitals — each with 50 beds for people in need of treatment.
Hatzolah’s triage system is color-coded: green (walking wounded), yellow (serious, but not critical), red (critical), black (untreatable or dead).
Although the nonprofit group’s areas of service — Valley Village, Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson — all include high concentrations of Orthodox Jews, Bacall said that the volunteer medical service treats anyone in need, regardless of religion or affiliation, as long as they are within one of those three neighborhoods.
Asked how Hatzolah could transport its resources and EMTs in the case of an infrastructure failure, such as collapsed highways or impassable city streets, Bacall acknowledged that driving conditions are “always a problem” during earthquakes.
But, he said, that’s why the group doesn’t keep all of its resources in one location.
“Even if Pico is split down the middle and you couldn’t get past Robertson, we have members with equipment on one side of it and we have members with equipment on the other side of it,” Bacall said.
In addition to Hatzolah, some Los Angeles neighborhoods have their own community emergency response teams (CERTs), and neighborhood emergency teams (NETs).
Trained by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel, ordinary citizens receive nearly 20 hours of free CERT instruction in, among other things, basic first aid, evacuation tactics and search tactics.
Sari Katz, a Pico-Robertson CERT graduate, leads a NET in the area. Although her team is not as comprehensive as Hatzolah, it includes volunteers and block captains who can respond quickly during the next earthquake.
From checking on elderly neighbors to letting people know where Hatzolah has set up nearby outdoor trauma centers, volunteer networks like Katz’s add another layer of preparation
But, as Bacall emphasized, neither Hatzolah nor any other emergency service can supplement self-preparedness, which includes stocking up on water and food, and, most importantly, having a plan.
“If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?,” Bacall asked, citing Hillel. “It’s really incumbent upon everybody to make sure that their family is prepared.”
In case of an emergency, after calling 911, Hatzolah of Los Angeles can be reached at (800) 613-1911. More information on CERT can be found at cert-la.com.