During disasters, CERT-trained volunteers will play an important role in the overall response. In many cases, local CERTs will be the first available help to residents when access issues or an overwhelming number of calls for assistance stretch fire and police resources.

On Saturday February 24, 26 CERT graduates from all over the county gathered at the Mill Valley Community Center for a CERT Leadership workshop. Led by Michael St. John, Mill Valley Battalion Chief, the CERTs were tasked with building an Incident Command Post (ICP) and then responding to a series of events to practice response planning and communication skills. This type of simulation has never been done in Marin.

Volunteers at operations table

“The goal of this CERT Command Post training was to teach CERT volunteers how to utilize the Incident Command System, practice coordination with local government response and learn how to set up a field Command Post in realistic field conditions when buildings may not be safe to utilize. I was very impressed with the skills, knowledge and abilities our CERT volunteers bring to the table,” said Battalion Chief St. John.

The simulation scenario was a strong earthquake that resulted in building damage, no phones or electricity, and  both freeways and bridges damaged throughout Marin. Teams were sent outside and directed to a supply cache. The first challenge was to work as a team to assemble a yurt, a dome-shaped tent,  that would act as the ICP. Once assembled, the team chose a leader, who then assigned other leadership roles and supplies were unpacked.

assemble_yurt

Firefighters took the role of a citizen coming to the ICP to report events that required deployment of a CERT team, such as a fire or trapped resident. Information was gathered, a virtual team deployed and the status communicated to the City’s Emergency Operation Center. Five separate events were reported and required a response.

The real challenge in the simulation was to track the events and team response, and then to accurately report the CERT response to the appropriate authorities. Marty Brenneis, a CERT from San Rafael, said “The exercise was a great demonstration of bringing a random group of people together to quickly form a team and get a job done. The ICS structure made that easier since there were defined roles to be filled. This was quite similar to some disaster command posts I have been in in the past.”

Group photo of CERT class

CERTs are encouraged to keep their skills up to date with refresher exercises offered either through Marin County CERT or their local fire department. Sign up for Ready Marin notifications of upcoming events and trainings at readymarin.org/subscribe.