Saturday I had the fun opportunity to join with other people at a multi-city mock disaster for CERT members.
This event was sponsored by the Lehi CERT team, and they put a lot of work in getting this running. Members from all over northern Utah County and Southern Salt Lake Counties got together and quickly had their hands full with a variety of disasters. We had a UTA bus with smoke billowing out, and very hurt people, to a school with a massive disaster in the gym, as well as very small, dark hallways that made for difficult rescues. Attendees had the opportunity to practice a wide variety of skills, often in far less than ideal situations.
For the morning I was a part of the triage team (which was horribly understaffed). Teams were picked at first largely by the IC just grabbing a group and sending them off on a task (without asking for skill-sets). Triage is definitely something that I need a bit of work on, since by nature I want to find out every detail to a problem. This is a great skill as a programmer, but in triage you need to be faster and just do general categorizations. The real work can then be done later. We started off knowing about a bus crash (which was repeated for practice), but also then scaled to a building collapse with fire.
Also during this morning time, our comms director set us up on a local repeater that I was unfamiliar with. This caused a little delay as people such as myself had to scramble to remember how to set up the tone on our hand-held radio’s. Not something you want to have to do during a disaster. Also problematic was the repeater itself. I’m not sure what power it was, but hardly anybody could be understood. Often just going around the corner at the school would cause us to have severe transmission issues!
At mid-day, we paused the simulation and had a debriefing. The Saratoga Springs fire chief helped lead the reports, and discussed various things that could be improved on. This of course is the most important part of an activity of this type, the after-action report. There were great comments as people realized their own weaknesses under stress, and we were able to point out various practical changes we would like to try.
After the break, we reorganized, with a new IC (Incident Commander) and staff, and broke out many of the groups more. For the second half I was made the communications director, which was quite fun. This job was made somewhat easier in that the new IC was a proficient HAM, thus making my workload lighter. For the second half we switched to using simplex on the HAMs which greatly improved our broadcasting. We also had a little fun by encouraging a few of the patients to freak out on the medical staff by ‘demanding’ to be the ones allowed on the faux life-flight arrival.
Overall the event was a great success. It was the first of its type held in our area, and despite extremely short notice there were people from quite a few towns. Now it would have been even more amazing if we’d had a larger turnout (only 5 people from my city), but that gives us something to recruit for. Also a local group, Brothers Grimm Disasters came out to really pick things up by setting up the disaster itself, creating the ‘wounded’ and debris, what an amazing job on some of them.
If you aren’t already affiliated with a local CERT group, you should be. Get familiar with your cities disaster management plans. Help get your neighbors trained so they will be ready to help out in times of disaster. Once trained, getting your city and others to participate in this type of mock disaster is a critical part of sharpening your skills.