by Davina Witts

The October county-wide combined CERT and amateur radio drill at Moffat field was a great experience. The focus for CERT was search, damage assessment, triage, first aid and incident command. The ham folks – Amateur Radio Emergency Services/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (ARES/RACES) – practiced emergency communications.

Six separate Incident Command Posts (ICPs) were set up, each matched with an ARES/RACES team. This allowed the CERT participants to complete the 3-hour exercise in small groups of about 10 people to each Incident Command (IC)—enabling a lot of hands on experience and really good learning. I was assigned as a mentor to IC Bravo. Our simulated neighborhood consisted of a floor inside a derelict building. The CERT participants first split into two groups of about 5 each. One group searched the neighborhood, conducted triage, rescue and first aid while communicating via radio to the ICP. The ICP recorded the location of the team, noted building conditions, injuries and so on; and then communicated the relevant information to the ARES/RACES team, who in turn communicated with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Then, after about 90 minutes, the groups swapped over.

The 3 key take aways for me are:

  • Record keeping and communication are critical: However good we are at things like search and first aid, if we don’t have systems in place for recording what we do and the skill to communicate this to EOC, then our effectiveness will be significantly compromised. Our basic CERT training offered very little on incident command and so I suspect that most of us need more experience in this area. With this in mind, I really encourage you to sign up for the refresher on Communication and Documentation that Santa Clara County Fire Department are running at the Saratoga Prospect Center on December 5:
  • The firefighters of Santa Clara County Fire Department are an amazing bunch of people who genuinely value CERT and ARES/RACES: At least a dozen SCCFD staff and firefighters were involved in the drill. And a core team of CERT (including Brent Hailpern, Jeff Walker, and Craig Pietrow from Saratoga CERT) and fire department folks had taken months to prepare for it. This represents a very substantial investment by the County—something that they wouldn’t do unless they thought CERT and ARES/RACES were worthwhile—so it’s up to us to live up to their belief in us by taking advantage of the training opportunities that they provide! So, I’m setting myself a target of going to at least 3 refresher/training opportunities each year.
  • Don’t be afraid to step up and volunteer because support will be there when you need it: I had not attended a drill like this before so, when I signed up to volunteer, I imagined that I would be doing a bit of fetching and carrying, setup and so on. So, it was something of a shock to get an email from the organizer thanking me for signing up as a mentor. And even more of a shock on the day when I realized that I had inadvertently put my hand up to mentor an ICP! But all was well as I asked for help and one of the firefighters was assigned as my partner. This gave me a fantastic opportunity to not only learn about the IC from an expert but also to be able to learn some of the skills that will hopefully make me an effective mentor in the future.