UPDATE (11/13/2013)- Click HERE to view photos and video of the exercise
The blue skies rapidly began to turn ominous as the bright yellow school bus traveled to its next stop. The two children reached their destination and exited the bus to walk to their homes. A bolt of lighting struck in the direction of their destination just as the bus disappeared in the distance. The crack left their ears ringing as their bodies began to tremble from fear. The winds began to blow with such intensity that the raindrops stung on contact with their skin. The children attempted to shelter under the trees at the outskirts of a nearby park. Residents from the neighboring community watched the two panic until visibility went to near zero as quarter sized hail began to fall. A local weather station in the vicinity measured winds in excess of 72 miles per hour. Twenty minutes later the storm subsided but devastation was left in its wake. Trees and power lines were downed leaving some local roads impassible. The panicked families began to call 911 when their children did not return home. Hundreds of other calls came into the local 911 center sending first responders into the area. Homes were left damaged, traffic lights out, debris blocking roadways, gas leaks, and a small brush fire kept rescuers busy.
Law enforcement spoke with the children’s family members and witnesses who described what they saw in detail. It was determined that these children may be lost or injured, suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and hypothermia. Additional resources would need to be called in due to the size of the large wooded area and the difficult terrain. Time was not on the side of the children and rapid mobilization of resources was essential.
This scenario may seem a little extreme but first responders must prepare for the unexpected. A very similar scenario and training exercise will take place this Saturday morning at John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor. This exercise is being coordinated by the East Lake Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T).
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.
CERT was founded as part of Citizen Corp’s efforts to coordinate volunteer activity with the goal to make communities safer from the inside. CERT is one of several programs established to train ordinary citizens to become an integral part of protecting the homeland and supporting local first responders.
East Lake CERT was established in 2005 and was made up of a group of concerned citizens from the East Lake area. After following national guidelines and initiatives, they began training other members of the East Lake Community. Today, they have grown to over 150 combined active and reserve members.
Saturday’s exercise will bring together many different agencies including Sunstar Paramedics, East Lake Fire Rescue, Civil Air Patrol, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Pinellas County Park Rangers, and many others. This training is integral to effectively manage real life events in a well organized manner. CERT utilizes the same Incident Command System (ICS) that is used by all the other first responders. East Lake CERT will be forming teams of volunteers for both Urban and Wilderness searches. The assembled teams will be led by a Team Leader and include first responders, community volunteers and Amateur/FRS radio operators.
The Civil Air Patrol will assist in the search overhead at about 1,000 feet in a Cesna 172. They will begin search patterns at about 10:45 a.m. They will be in constant communication with crews on the ground which will relay information to the onsite Incident Commander.
The simulated wilderness searches will take place throughout John Chestnut Park. The Urban searches will take place in the neighboring Anchorage subdivision with the support of the homeowners association.
Volunteers are welcome and encouraged to stop by on Saturday morning. Feel free to just observe or prepare to get dirty while participating the Search and Rescue (SAR) Operation. Registration will be at about 8 a.m. with briefings starting promptly at 10 a.m.
The event will be held at Shelter #2 in John Chestnut Park. The park is at 2200 East Lake Rd in Palm Harbor.
I will be embedded into one of these SAR teams and will be posting photos and videos of the experience at http://www.iontb.com early next week.
Photos from CERT exercise. Video is currently being processed and will be posted when available.
Interested in getting involved in CERT?
The East Lake CERT meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at East Lake Fire Rescue Station #57 at 3375 Tarpon Lake Blvd. Palm Harbor, FL 34685.
If you are interested in becoming involved in CERT, the dates for the next Basic CERT Training have just been announced! The training has been scheduled for January 17-19, 2014 at the East Lake Fire Station 57 in Palm Harbor. Some of the topics that will be covered include; Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety and Utility Controls, Disaster Medical Operations, Light Search and Rescue Operations, Disaster Psychology, Terrorism, etc. The training will include both classroom and practical disaster simulations. Here is the link for additional information. The training is free of charge and the minimum age is 14.