Sara CardineStaff Writer  /

If a natural disaster like an earthquake, flood or fire were to strike today, what would you do?

While many might panic, a group of clients served by the nonprofit Project Independence now know to recall the preparedness triangle — evacuate, communicate, reunify — and to grab the essentials before they flee to safety.

Brenda Emrick, acting emergency services manager with the Costa Mesa Fire Department on Wednesday stopped by the Costa Mesa nonprofit to lead a disaster preparedness training for about 30 adults living with intellectual disabilities.

Her presentation included advice for assembling emergency home kits, developing a communications plan with a phone list so loved ones can be reached with or without cellphone service and other practical tips for all kinds of predicaments.

For example, a water bottle stored in the freezer might come in handy if an ice pack is needed, while a flashlight can be used as a weapon, tool or to signal others to one’s location. To drive the point home, the group played a spirited Pictionary-style game in which team members took turns drawing disaster kit essentials.

“We’re trying to get them to think about simple things, so they’ll have those things on hand,” Emrick said in an interview after the training. “Preparedness is in the everyday living, not just in a disaster.”

Leaders at Project Independence, which helps adults with developmental disabilities live, work and play as self-sufficiently as possible, requested the training ahead of a nationwide “Great ShakeOut” earthquake drill and awareness campaign on Oct. 19.

It seemed like a fitting time to bolster the message of preparedness among a population that could be particularly vulnerable during a catastrophic event.

“We wanted our clients who live independently or in group homes to be aware of things that could arise when there’s an earthquake or disaster,”  adding that while Project Independent staff work closely with those they serve, they may not always be around when disaster hits.

“What happens when the staff isn’t there? Or when you have a client who lives alone and it’s 3 o’ clock in the morning?” he posed. “This is why it’s important for them to learn this.”

Santa Ana resident Trevor Kemp said he appreciated Wednesday’s refresher course. The 38-year-old has already put together an emergency kit with snacks, water and an extra pair of clothes and has a plan to reach out to his grandmother in an emergency.

“I know basically about all the stuff that needs to be done if a disaster happens,” Kemp said after the class.

Emrick said she plans to leave Project Independence staff a copy of her presentation, which can be broken out into smaller sessions and used in future training sessions.

“Finding resources for community members is what we do as government employees,” she added. “If we can get something into their hands and be part of delivering the message, we want to be a part of that.”