Denver CERT Graduation Exercise

On December 11, 2010, O.M.E.G.A. hosted the last Denver CERT graduation exercise for 2010.  I consider these graduation exercises as the most essential part of the CERT training.  It completes the 32 hour Basic CERT course and it allows the students to demonstrate what they have learned in class.

It is a time for the student to either put up or shut up.  It is time for them to walk the walk of a CERT volunteer.  For me, it is their crowning achievement, something as an instructor, I cherish to see the students transformed into a full fledged CERT volunteer.

In this exercise, I had Max Khaytsus, Jenn Scott, John Grahn and Carolyn Bluhm to help facilitate the exercise.  John worked his artistic magic in creating the role players (aka victims) into ghoulish disaster survivors.  Max and Jenn seemed to rub their hands with ornery anticipation of what they were ready to pull on the unsuspecting students.  Carolyn was just happy that the Denver community was on the way to be better prepared for any emergency.

In 2010, the City and County of Denver has been using the strategy of combining all the classes in a given quarter of the year into a quarterly graduation exercise.  For example, classes held in January, February and March had a graduation exercise in March; classes held in April, May and June had a graduation exercise in June; classes held in July, August and September, had a graduation exercise in September, and classes held in October, November and December had a graduation exercise in December.

This also allows a larger gathering of students to participate in the graduation exercise.  If the students want to get their CERT bag (and all the cool toys) and their certificate, they must attend a graduation exercise.  If the student misses their assigned graduation exercise, they can attend another one at a later date.

This last exercise of 2010 had an interesting mix of students.  We had the Boy Scouts (working on their Merit badge), Denver Police Academy Cadets, working professionals from various clerical, IT and management roles, and a retired Russian Submarine chaser and analyst.

As I had done in the past, while our moulage expert applied special effects creations to the role players, I went over some of the highlights of search and rescue – triage, treatment, incident command system and any other questions – with the CERT students.  With Max, Jenn and Carolyn (the evaluation team) working with me that morning, we certainly were able to be more thorough with the overviews.

We have been holding our exercises at the Community of Christ building at 480 Marion Street in Denver.  This building has been designated as the spookiest facility we have used to date.  It is pre-World War II architecture, with all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide the role players.  It has a number of twists and turns that made the CERT members think on how they would evacuate the role players they were sent in to rescue and apply the protocols of medical triage.

Or in other words, the Denver building is a perfect place to hold an exercise.

Because of the chilly December temperatures, the evaluation team allowed the CERT members to hold their medical triage area in the basement of the church (with limited access).  The combined classes worked so well together, that the evaluation team gave them a follow-up exercise, since we had plenty of time left over.  They had the added complication of a “natural gas leak inside the building”.  The CERT members had to make sure the “natural gas leak” was evaluated, gas turned off (simulated), and the building vented with fresh air before the teams were allowed to set up another medical triage inside the building.

It was interesting how the teams worked through various stages of miscommunications before they pulled together as a team.  It was a clear demonstration of how volunteers, using the Incident Command System (ICS) correctly, adapt and over come obstacles.

They made good use of ICS, the protocols that law enforcement, fire districts, public health and public works rely on, even though it may seem like a foreign language.

We are looking forward to more adventures like this in 2011.

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