04/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Disaster Prep With a Twist

"Drink from the tank, not the bowl." -- Kevin Mason, Emergency Preparedness Guru

"You're on the 405. It's afternoon rush hour in July. And 8-point-5. You feel the freeway shaking under your car... What do you do now?" asked veteran LA firefighter/disaster preparedness expert Kevin Mason of a suddenly quiet group.

The only reason I attended this meeting was to support my Democratic club (go Valley Dems United! ). My friend Liz, who'd booked Kevin, said he was great. But how great can any presenter be when his job is to give you lists of stuff you better have to survive the Big One or any other catastrophe? The supplies most of us own are pitiful, outdated or non-existent; and who can remember thing one about that CPR class from years ago?

But if every emergency prep session started like Mason's, I'd already be an expert in CPR and have several well-stocked larders located strategically, carrying the appropriate first-aid provisions and food needed immediately after disaster strikes-- whether at home or away.

"My mission is to save people's lives," says Mason. He spent 22 years rushing into burning buildings to rescue Angelenos. Before that he was a Ranger in the Federal Forest Service. He also worked for FEMA.

For the past five years Mason has scared and then helped prepare hundreds of groups throughout Los Angeles to survive emergencies and help their communities get through the aftermath. He's part of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the LA Fire Department's elite unit that travels the community to teach courses in overall catastrophe readiness along with such components as fire safety, search and rescue, triage, understanding terrorists and their weapons, and of course, CPR. For free.

Funding cuts forced CERT to end its evening and weekend presentations late last year, so now the squad is available only during regular working hours. But your LA City company, neighborhood association or other group can still get introductory and in-depth training (as long as everyone is at least 18 years old) to overcome natural and human-sparked disasters.

Mason's sessions are as engaging as they are potentially life-saving. Maybe because his subject matter is so somber, he likes to break the tension with a sense of humor that - depending on the listener-- is irreverent, puckish or wicked. Contact him and decide for yourself.

Reach Kevin Mason at CERT, 818-756-9673,,