A disaster can occur without warning but the city of Hesperia offers residents a chance to prepare through hosting its free 20-hour Community Emergency Response Team program.

Residents learn about terrorism, disaster psychology, fire safety, search and rescue and basic first aid during the program, led by emergency services coordinator Brigit Bennington on Thursday.

The course includes lectures and hands on experience with participants putting out small fires and rescuing "victims" during an earthquake simulation, according to Bennington.

"Response isn't going to be readily available if there's a large scale event police and fire departments are not going to be able to get to everybody," Bennington said, stressing the importance of residents being prepared.

CERT members learn how to save lives so that they are "doing the greatest good for the greatest number," Bennington said.

In the event a major earthquake cuts off travel through the Cajon Pass, Bennington recommends residents store two weeks worth of supplies such as water, food and medications, she said.

Jay Sewell was one of the first residents to take the course three years ago, and now as a CERT member he helps teach the terrorism class.

"In the world we live in today, people should always be aware of their surroundings," said Sewell. He adds people shouldn't hesitate to call authorities, from a landline, if they suspect they see a bomb.

Richard Amos took the CERT training three years ago because he wanted to be involved with the community. Now he teaches participants about medical aid and fire safety, which includes detection of harmful chemicals.

"People should take the course to be more familiar with what to do in their own homes and take care of themselves," Amos said.

Medical aid includes learning what types of injuries are "minor, major and critical," Amos said. This helps CERT members know which people are in most need of medical attention for when paramedics arrive.

"Once people gain the knowledge of the program, they're more prepared and the percentage of victims goes down," said Sewell.

There's still time to sign up for the CERT program this week. Classes are 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at 9392 Santa Fe Ave. East in Hesperia.

The CERT program is also available for groups of 20 or more if businesses, churches or others are interested.

Future CERT programs will be held May 16 to 18 and Sept. 19 to 21. Call Bennington at (760) 947-1245 or email her at BBennington@CityofHesperia.us for more information.