Monthly Archives: May 2011

New Hams

O.M.E.G.A. has completed another amateur radio Technician class training session.  Due to the bad weather, this class took eight weeks instead of the five or six weeks that we typically take.

Using ARRL’s Technician Class guide as our course material, we had 75% of the students take and pass the thirty-five multiple choice test within two weeks of completing the course.  Two thirds of the students who passed their test had purchased their HTs (handi-talkies) before completing the training.  This allowed them to begin listening in on rag chews and nets, getting their feet wet a little at a time.

O.M.E.G.A. attempts to hold two Technician class courses a year – a five or six week detailed course in the winter and a five day overview session in the summer.

The winter course meets for two to three hours a night, two nights a week.  The course covers the majority, if not all the book chosen for the class.  This course can include some show and tell of various amateur radio equipment.  We also try to get in a fifteen to thirty minute practice session.  The practice session pairs up students with licensed hams and allows them practice talking and listening on the radio.

The summer overview session is a refresher.  Students are expected to have previously read the material and just want a review of the questions and answers.  This session is three hours a night for five nights in a single week.  The time is used to review the questions in the test pool.  Students who plan to read the book during the week long course can expect a very intense and rough week.  However, this is a good class for those who just want to refresh what they have previously learned before taking the test.

This year, we will also be throwing a General class course into the mix.  If the pilot works out, we will look into making the class an annual offering.

If you are interested in a training session, but don’t see one on our calendar, please feel free to make a request and we’ll see what we can do.  We will schedule special training for groups.

True CERT Stories

It was a wild morning in Denver.  My Scottish terrier and I were up at 6 AM, had breakfast, and glanced at the paper and at 7:00 AM I was upstairs in my den, checking email messages on the computer.  The doorbell rang.  Strange, I thought, being so early in the morning.

I rushed down stairs, opened the door to see my next door neighbor, barely able to stand, and white as a sheet.  (He had some surgery ten days ago, and was in recovery.)  My neighbor said his cell phone had crapped out, and he had been up since midnight, with a need to vomit and was weak.  He was having a hard time breathing, and said his temperature was 95 .

I ushered my neighbor back through his front door, checked his vital signs as best I could, made sure his airway was clear, and rushed back next door to my home and dialed 911.  The operator answered quickly and I gave her the details of what I knew.  I then went back to my neighbor, leaving the front door open to listen.  My neighbor seemed to be stabilized and I assured him that I was there for him.

I glanced at my watch, and sure enough, three minutes later, in the distance I heard the siren sound of a Denver Fire Department truck, from the nearest station, rolling.

The DFD station is only a little over a mile from our homes.  Less than a minute later I heard the huge diesel engine shut down and the hiss of the air brakes.  The fire truck was there, lit up like a wonderful Christmas Tree, as three firemen and the driver came running up the front walkway to where I was standing waving my arms.

They attended to my neighbor and about five minutes later the ambulance arrived.  Now there were six trained professionals surrounding my neighbor, and I noticed that both DFD and the EMTs had “defibs” – heart shockers.

As they rolled my neighbor out to the street on the gurney, I placed my hand on his shoulder, assuring him that another neighbor and fellow cat lover had already arrived to take care of his beloved cat and that all was going to be just fine.  As they rolled my neighbor out to the street, I mentioned to the DFD lieutenant that I was glad I had taken my refresher class at CERT, and he smiled, turned to look at me and said “Right on, Bro.”

It’s been a dozen or more years since I have had a shot of adrenaline like I had this morning and too many times in my life, and now in my neighbor’s life.

As I saw the fire truck and the ambulance pull away, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Almighty God, and my superb CERT class, for reminding me of what it means to be an emergency first responder, first on the scene.  Act quickly and with mental discipline and do not emotionally identify with your subject.  I did, and I acted fast, and effectively I think.  (The neighbor lady was standing outside, emotionally affected and almost paralyzed with grief and concern.)

As I heard the sound of the ambulance siren in the distance, I knew the ambulance was “lit up” and I murmured a silent prayer for my neighbor.

I am glad and blessed that the professionals were so close and that I was needed to play only a tiny part in helping my neighbor.  That’s what neighbors are supposed to be.  My neighbor is my “brother”.

Epilogue

My neighbor called me last night from the hospital to tell me how he was doing and to thank me for being there for him and that most likely he thought he would be home in the afternoon.  Doctors think it might have been an “over-the-top” allergic reaction to the drugs that he was given to reduce his pain and discomfort after his surgery, which can be very serious and even life threatening.

He continued to thank me and I got a little embarrassed, so I injected a little humor to lighten things up.

I said, “I am delighted to know you’re going to be fine and returning home.  After all, I hate breaking in a new next door neighbor since I am very pleased with the one I have now.”

The Federation Ball

You’d think that emergency response and science-fiction don’t intersect.  One is firmly grounded in the real world and the other … well, it’s make-believe.  The truth of the matter is that science-fiction is prone to disasters as much as anything else and having a good plan up front is fairly critical.

Every year O.M.E.G.A. provides communications and security to the Federation Ball, an event that would be best described as a cross between a conference and a riot.  The Federation Ball takes place at StarFest, an annual multi-media convention, known to attract upwards of ten thousand participants.  On the schedule it follows the costume contest and parody play and is the last thing scheduled for Saturday night.  The crowd attending the event is probably best described as a fraternity entering spring break.  Yes, the April timing of this convention is fairly deliberate.

Federation Ball 1

The party is just starting. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

If you’ve ever gone clubbing, you are well familiar with the loud music, the flowing alcohol and the overloaded dance floor under a flood of flashing lights.  Those things stay the same at the Federation Ball.  This is about the time listeners start scoffing at the tale.  “It’s a private party for a bunch of nerds.  They need one because they can’t get in to a real night club.”

One might think that.

The demographics for science-fictions fans have changed tremendously over the decades.  Two generations ago mainstream culture refused to embrace the world of make-believe, but a generation later things of fantasy became reality.  Computers, cell phones, automatic doors, laser scanners.  They all evolved from a nerdy dream.  The generation born into this technological evolution has embraced the genre and accepts the theoretical principles of science-fiction with as much ease as their grandparents accepted the sight of a car driving down the street.

The nerds of yesteryear – the awkward, unkempt, heavy lens wearing outcasts – are gone.  Replacing them is a contemporary crowd of young doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and business people.  They are hip, forward looking and adventuresome.  They are a cornerstone of the environmental movement, self improvement and physical fitness.  Science-fiction of this generation is no longer escapism.  It is a tomorrow that they are looking forward to, a tomorrow that they are actively building.

The attendance of the Federation Ball can easily be 10% of the entire convention’s attendance and is considered to be one of the top attended events over the course of the weekend.  This is the halfway mark of the show and the Federation Ball is the “hump day” party where revelers can let their hair down and party into the night.  And they come dressed in their favorite science-fiction attire.  Think of your favorite night club on Halloween night, but the loose ill fitting clothes are not the normal dress.  True fans spend months getting ready for StarFest.  They plan long and hard on what they will wear and many design their outfits from scratch.  You may pause in wonder as someone passes you in the corridor, wondering if you really saw a well known actor/actress or just someone who managed to make themselves look like a movie star.

Federation Ball 2

The Macarena is alive and well at the Federation Ball. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

Costumes tend to have extremes.  Some overdress.  It’s not uncommon to see a fairly agile robot shuffle past you or a seven foot tall werewolf with a spring in his step.  You have to stop and give them a second glance, wondering how they did it.  The other extreme can be rather risqué, coming out only after hours when the kids and the mundanes have gone to bed.  Some outfits consist of less than a square foot of fabric and barely cover enough to keep the police at bay.  As they pass you, you theorize that they can’t bend over or sit down, but somehow they still manage to rip up the dance floor without destroying their outfits.  Maybe it’s just body paint.  You never really want to be caught staring.

O.M.E.G.A. works public safety for many events.  Every year we take part in up to two dozen rides, races, marathons and other public gatherings.  We watch for trouble, provide assistance, keep the event organizers appraised on what is going on, get help quickly when it is needed.  A science-fiction night club is really no different.  People still get into trouble, they still get lost, they still need to get directions.  Except here they may be drunk, too.

In most of our deployments our staff will be spread out across miles of terrain.  We will be stationed alone or in pairs and may not see another staff member over the course of the event.  Radios solve that challenge very easily, but coming into the Federation Ball, the communications challenge takes on a different role.  The hotel atrium where the event is held is maybe a hundred feet across by two hundred feet long, really, a postage stamp on the scale of a city block, but filled with hundreds of gyrating people and flashing lights and pumping music…  You can’t even walk to a member of your team twenty feet away.

A 100+ decibel sound wave creates amazing communications challenges.  If you’re lucky enough not to create a feedback loop when you open your microphone, you still have to be loud and clear enough to transmit your message.  In spite of the proximity of all the staff, this is probably our toughest communications challenge of the entire year.

And we’re of course dealing with a crowd, members of which have been liberally lubricated with alcohol (and potentially other mind altering substances).  The rules are simple.  No glass on the dance floor.  No break dancing, no mass bumping, no surfing.  Safety first.  And, of course, no weapons.  You’d scoff at this.  Nerds with weapons?  Okay, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and business people with weapons?  You’d better believe it.  And much more so here than at a real night club.  A Klingon bat’leth, Conan’s sword, Gandalf’s staff, Freddy’s claws.  The weapons might be fake as revelers simulate their return from hunting Aliens or the Predator and we’re pretty sure that the Ghostbusters aren’t wearing real Proton Packs, but we can’t really be sure.  The sign at the entry reads, “No Weapons Allowed” and under it, in red print, “this means yours”.  We are constantly telling people to take weapons back to their room or their car.  Some chose to leave the weapons at our table out front.  A lot of blades.  One was a real firearm.

This Federation Ball was the 20th anniversary of the event at the convention and as with all the ones that preceded it, as the room emptied at the end of the night, there was a collective sigh of relief that we successfully got through another large scale disaster.  The tally?  Not too bad.  One case of heat exhaustion and a handful of people who slipped on a spilled drink on the floor.

And the best part of the event?  A legitimate excuse to sleep in past noon on Sunday.

Mile High DICE 2011

In October 2011, O.M.E.G.A. joined the Colorado Federal Executive Board (CFEB), the Rocky Mountain Intergovernmental Continuity Council, to participate in the planning of Mile High DICE 2011 FEMA Region VIII exercise.  It was the CFEB’s strong desire to have volunteer organizations and members within the private sector participate.  DICE is an acronym that stands for Denver Inter-agency Continuity Exercise.  The City and County of Denver Office of Emergency Management (OEM) offered their Emergency Operating Center (EOC) as the base of operations for the exercise.

For most participants of Mile High DICE 2011, the exercise started the evening of April 12, 2011 with a number of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) detonating at key areas along the Colorado Front Range, primarily within the metropolitan Denver area.

Our portion of DICE was divided into four parts: Operation Snake Eyes, EOC Support for DICE 2011, CoCat, LLC and City of Castle Pines exercise participation.

Operation Snake Eyes

Since the parent exercise was called DICE, the full scale volunteer responder component played off the name with a pair of six-sided dice displaying ones on top – a pair of ones is called Snake Eyes by gamblers.

Operation Snake Eyes was a full scale CERT exercise for volunteer responders in the North Central Region (NCR).  The NCR is organized around the ten metropolitan counties.  Also participating in the exercise were Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), Rampart Search and Rescue (SAR), Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

The Operation Snake Eyes scenario was based on an improvised explosive device (IED) detonating at a large public venue, in our case a rock concert.  The objective of the exercise was to test volunteer responder preparedness as they organized themselves under the Incident Command System, performed assessment of the area for potential safety hazards, conducted search and triage of the survivors and prepared the injured for transport.

For more details about Operation Snake Eyes, please see page 4.

City and County of Denver EOC

Max Khaytsus and Jenn Scott represented O.M.E.G.A. at the Denver Emergency Operations Center.  They coordinated the voice and digital traffic into the FEMA SimCells.  What is a SimCell?  It is short for “simulation cell”.  Emergency management uses a SimCell during training exercises to provide communications between the participants and simulated outside agencies.

We used the SimCell to track our progress with the private company CoCat and the City of Castle Pines.

CoCat, LLC

CoCat is a company specializing in property restoration services (fire, flood, mold, storm, sewage, vandalism, hazardous material, crime scene and computer disk forensics).

CoCat had recently moved to their present location and wanted to see if the fire drill procedures from their old building would easily transfer to their present location.

Donita Hilfinger and Gary Freeman joined me in facilitating the exercise at CoCat.

The scenario:  On April 12 a number of IEDs were detonated in the Denver metropolitan area, creating a number of cascading fires.  CoCat was contracted to perform disk forensics on a damaged computer.  When the forensics technician pulled the cover off the computer, located inside was a package of unknown origin.

Once the “package” was discovered and the SimCell notified, the employees of CoCat (all 80 of them at this location) made an orderly fire drill evacuation.  The facility was evacuated in about five minutes once the alarm was activated.

After the all clear was made and the employees were allowed back in the building, our exercise team and the CoCat team felt the basic components of the fire drill were successful.  However, both teams would like to fine tune a number of areas to improve the process.  We will be scheduling follow up meetings in the future.

We would like to thank Mickey Lewis and the CoCat team for participating in Mile High DICE 2011.

City of Castle Pines, Colorado

The City of Castle Pines has a population of approximately 10,000 residents.  They rely on South Metro Fire District for fire prevention, response and emergency medical services (EMS).  For law enforcement they rely on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Loring Abeyta, Donita Hilfinger and Gary Freeman joined me in facilitating the exercise at the City of Castle Pines.

Mile High DICE at Castle Pines

City of Castle Pines exercise team. Photo by L. Abeyta.

The Castle Pines Scenario:  On April 12, a number of IEDs were detonated in the Denver metropolitan area, creating a number of cascading fires.  Fire departments and law enforcement agencies have been swamped with 911 calls.  On April 13 a package arrived in the office of the Public Works Director and started to leak a sticky substance.  A call was made into the 911 center and it was advised that the building is to be evacuated until the bomb squad arrives.  The original estimated time of arrival was ten minutes.  However, the simulated Douglas County EOC gave the 911 caller an undetermined time of arrival due to other pending calls.

Castle Pines CERT was called in to facilitate the building evacuation.  Castle Pines CERT set up ICS protocols, sized up the building and performed a virtual evacuation (performed a census of the building occupants and their guests).

The City of Castle Pines was pleased to report that in the event where they had to rely on volunteers to bridge the gap if professional first responders were delayed in assisting in an emergency, they know that they can count on CERT.

The exercise was completed in one hour and we will be meeting with the Castle Pines CERT for a review of the exercise.

We would like to thank Eric Guth, Castle Pines Public Works Director, for his participation and for providing a facility to host the exercise, the Castle Pines CERT team for their participation and demonstration of how CERT can fill in when needed, Mickey Lewis and CoCat for providing lunch for the exercise and Carolyn Bluhm and the Denver Office of Emergency Management for connecting O.M.E.G.A. with FEMA Region VIIII and giving us the opportunity to be a part of this regional exercise.  We are looking forward to next year’s DICE.

Operation Snake Eyes

O.M.E.G.A. joined the Colorado Federal Executive Board (CFEB), the Rocky Mountain Intergovernmental Continuity Council, to help plan the Mile High DICE 2011 FEMA Region VIII exercise.  It was the CFEB’s strong desire to have volunteer organizations participate in this disaster management and continuity planning exercise.

DICE is an acronym that stands for: Denver Inter-agency Continuity Exercise.

For most participants in Mile High DICE 2011, the exercise started the evening of April 12, 2011 with a number of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) detonating at key areas along the Colorado Front Range, primarily within the metropolitan Denver area.

As was explained to the CFEB, it is very hard to get volunteers to participate in large scale exercises during the week.  We asked and were given permission to hold the CERT component of the exercise on Saturday, April 9.

Operation Snake Eyes was one part of four activities in O.M.E.G.A.’s participation in the DICE simulation.  For a complete description, please see the Mile High DICE 2011 article on page 7.

Since the parent exercise was called DICE, we played off the name for our exercise with a pair of six-sided dice displaying ones on top – a pair of ones is called Snake Eyes by gamblers.

Operation Snake Eyes was a full scale CERT exercise for the CERT members in the North Central Region (NCR).  The NCR is organized around ten counties (and their cities, districts, towns and municipalities): Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Gilpin and Jefferson.  Also participating in the exercise were Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), Rampart Search and Rescue (SAR), Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

The Operation Snake Eyes scenario was based on an improvised explosive device (IED) detonating at a large public venue, in our case a rock concert.  The exercise was hosted by the Cherry Creek School District at Legacy Stadium in Aurora, Colorado on April 9, 2011.  Role players and CERT members were mixed in the audience.  Members of the Policy Group (aka City and County government representatives) were also in attendance watching the exercise.

No More Excuses

Local favorite No More Excuses in action at Operation Snake Eyes. Photo by G. Freeman.

Local Denver band, No More Excuses, volunteered to assist us with simulating a public venue event and donated their time and talent to make the exercise a success.  At 2 PM, with the concert in full swing, an IED was detonated at the base of the press box in the west stands of the stadium.  Most participants later noted that the explosion could not be heard over the music, but the smoke and debris from the detonation were clearly visible.

Legacy Stadium has a capacity of 5,000.  For this exercise we made the assumption that the band was playing to a full house.  The result of the explosion was four fatalities (including the bomber) and about fifty injuries.  We also assumed that fifty to sixty volunteer responders would be in the audience.  The remainder of the spectators would self-evacuate or be evacuated from the stadium.  It must be stressed that in the real world volunteer responders are mandated not to respond to terror or technological based incidents, but in this case we were allowed to simulate a passive deployment by responders who were already at the venue and stepped up to help until professional responders arrive.

Snake Eyes Staging

Teams organizing at the start of Operation Snake Eyes. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

As the responders started to get organized in the wake of the explosion, the rest of the crowd was set in place to wail and whine until they were found, triaged, escorted out of the “hot zone” or wait for transportation for their complete evacuation.

We were looking to see if the responders would be able to function in these three areas:

1. Concepts

2. Organization

3. Functionality

The goal of the responders was to see if they were able to follow and adhere to the logical phases of a response:

1. Gather the Facts

2. Assess the Damage

3. Consider the Probabilities

4. Assess the Situation

5. Establish Priorities

6. Make Decisions

7. Develop Plans of Action

8. Take Action

9. Evaluate Progress

Incident Command

Responders at the Incident Command Post ran the operation from a Medical Reserve Corps mobile command trailer. Photo by D. Haskin.

They needed to do all this and follow the protocols of the Incident Command System (ICS).  What is ICS?  It a systematic tool used for the command, control and coordination of emergency response.  Firefighters, law enforcement, public health and many others use this tool.  It allows all responders to speak the same language and follow the same protocols.

As the exercise director, I was particularly interested if the responders minimally followed the ICS guidelines with this team structure:

Incident Commander

1. Command Staff

a. Admin Officer (Note taker)

b. Safety Officer

c. Liaison Officer

d. Public Information Officer

2. General Staff

a. Operations Chief

b. Logistics Chief

c. Planning Chief

In planning and executing these exercises, O.M.E.G.A. uses ICS as well.  We find ICS works very well for exercise development.  It helps us continuously apply the ICS principles, stay current on the standardized methods and, most importantly, practice what we preach.

Functionality covers these areas:

1. Search for and triage of the survivors.

2. Stabilization of the survivors and management of their injuries.

3. Transport of the injured to a medical staging area.

4. Medical treatment of the survivors outside the hot zone.

At the end of the first hour after the detonation of the IED, the responders still looked as if they were either herding cats or trying to corral freshly hatched sea turtles.  The Policy Group was concerned that a sense of urgency was not being displayed and the responders still seemed disorganized.  It was recommended that we should start over with a more direct mentorship.

I turned to the exercise planning team to receive their feed back.  Whereas each one agreed that there was a large degree of disorganization, this really has not been too much of a deviation from what we have seen since we started facilitating these exercises in 2006.  We felt that we needed to let the responders work things out.  Mistakes were made, but in a real disaster you can’t recall the tornado or put things back to do the earthquake over.  A part of the learning experience is fixing the mistakes in the course of an evolving incident.  To quote our exercise operations chief, “We still have two hours.  Leave them alone.”

Search and Rescue

Responders packaging a patient for transport. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

And in the second hour, as if on cue, the responders started to jell as a team.  After all, when you have pockets of strangers coming together, group dynamics still have to be considered (groups will form, then storm, go to norm and then finally perform).

From my perspective, anytime you throw a bunch of strangers into the mix and they start working together, it is a success!  The challenge is to work out group dynamics to perform effectively.

Did they ace the test?  No.  This is why we need to come together again in the next exercise in November.  But over all, I thought they did very well under the circumstances.

I would like to thank the Cherry Creek School District and Randy Councell for arranging for the use of Legacy Stadium and the surrounding buildings.  I would also like to thank the band, No More Excuses, for the entertainment and for being the focal point of the exercise and distracting the responders from the anticipation of a coming explosion.  A thank you goes to the Salvation Army for providing snacks, drinks and dinner for all the participants and the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter for the use of their emergency communication vehicle.

As always, the moulage team once again did a wonderful job in making the injuries look real, adding a very critical element to the success of the exercise.  Our stoic role players took their roles to heart and patiently and eloquently went with the flow, helping provide an educational experience.  ARES, CAP, CERT, MRC and SAR came together from across the metropolitan area.  Most of these individuals never worked with or met one another before and the successful conclusion of the exercise is a testament to their capabilities.

A special thank you goes to the members of the Policy Group for their belief in citizen involvement in emergency response and for their support of volunteer programs in the region.  And last but not least, I would like to thank the members of O.M.E.G.A, who put in countless hours in preparing for this exercise.

17th Annual Safe City Youth Summit

On January 9, 2011, O.M.E.G.A. was asked by the Denver Safe City Office to present to the participants of the 17th Annual Safe City Youth Summit at the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus on March 24.

The Denver Safe City Office (SCO) serves as the youth prevention and intervention arm of the Denver Department of Safety.  SCO was created in part as a response to Denver’s 1993 Summer of Violence when youth-related crime and violence reached new heights.  Over the years SCO has become an integral part of Denver’s public safety plan and has expanded programming to better serve the community and its youth and families.  SCO partners with non-profit, community-based, private, business and government organizations to serve nearly 3,000 youth and families each year through a number of prevention and intervention programs.

The mission of the Denver Safe City Office is to promote positive youth development and provide a continuum of services aimed at reducing youth violence, crime and victimization by developing and implementing community solutions through intergovernmental and intercommunity cooperation.

We were more than happy to participate and I appreciated having Donita Hilfinger join me at the workshop.

Our adventure at the Youth Summit started when we showed up, checked out the room, and discovered that the audio and visual request had been misplaced (the deer in headlights look and the crickets in the background was a dead giveaway).  I did bring extra equipment just in case, but their technical support person came through with flying colors.  We tested out the equipment just in time for our part of the workshop to start.

We were not sure how many people would show up.  I would have been happy to have just one person attend.  As it turned out, we had 85 participants to fill the room!

I am sure most of the youth attending came seeing the opportunity to get a day away from school.  After all, when I was their age, I jumped at any chance to legally be off the school campus.

We shared at a very high level the concepts behind CERT and its mission:

1. Identifying potential hazards in homes and workplaces.

2. Reducing hazards, where possible.

3. Developing a disaster supply kit.

Gauging the interest from the audience, we went a little deeper into CERT and what the program teaches:

  • Locating and turning off utilities, if safe.
  • Extinguishing small fires.
  • Treating injuries.
  • Conducting light search and rescue.
  • Helping to relieve survivor stress.

But I believe what really caught their attention was the section on “Seven Signs of Terrorism”.  These signs are:

1. Surveillance

2. Elicitation

3. Test of Security

4. Acquiring Supplies

5. Suspicious People Who Don’t Belong

6. Dry or Trial Runs

7. Deploying Assets and Getting into Position

I did ask the class when do they think this video was made and why.  It was interesting to hear the responses we got: 1996, 2001, in the ‘80’s.  If you want to know, you need to attend one of our CERT classes.  The presentation was a preview of the CERT program and offered a lot of information in a very short time.  It is my hope that the attendees don’t become overwhelmed by what they heard as this family did:

A New York family bought a ranch out west where they intended to raise cattle.  Friends came to visit and asked if the ranch had a name.

“Well,” said the would-be-cattleman, “I wanted to call it the Bar-J.  My wife favored the Suzy-Q.  One son liked the Flying-W and the other son wanted the Lazy-Y.  So, we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y Ranch.”

“But where are all your cattle?”

“So far none have survived the branding.”

I hope we did not swamp the youth with too much information and that they will enroll in one of the upcoming CERT classes.

We would like to thank Carolyn Bluhm and the Denver Office of Emergency Management for providing O.M.E.G.A. with this opportunity and we look forward to next year’s Youth Summit.

Operation Hide and Seek

Operation Hide and SeekAn elderly gentleman was talking to his friends: “I’ve got my health, everything is fine, my mind, knock wood … who’s there?”

With Operation Hide and Seek, some times I felt like knocking on wood, a lot, and started to find myself answering “who’s there?”

This was the first time that O.M.E.G.A. tried to conduct an exercise simultaneously at two distinct geographic locations — 480 Marion Street in Denver and 1695 Orchard Road in Greenwood Village.  This meant that we had two operation chiefs, two moulage teams, but thankfully only one planning chief,  logistic chief and one exercise director (aka incident commander for the exercise).

Our intent and purpose was to help leaders within the Community Emergency Response Team organization learn how to initiate and follow through on the search and triage component of the CERT training. Based on prior exercises we wanted to break the anatomy of a response into more manageable pieces and have the responders tackle problems with one focus at a time.  At first we were considering a different table top, but as the team brainstormed the goals of  Operation Hide and Seek, the concept evolved into a full exercise with a narrow focus where special attention was given to setting up incident command and managing the search operation.

Hosting Hide and Seek in two locations allowed us to double the number of participants without overloading either facility.  It also allowed for a more focused scope and smaller response teams where students had the opportunity to get more hands on experience across multiple areas and better absorb the concepts of a successful search.

At first the CERT participants seemed a little weary and cautious.  These were veterans of previous exercises and they expected that the world would unravel around them very quickly, but the purpose of this exercise was to break the response into manageable chunks and walk through the critical steps.

The responders identified their own incident commander, administration officer (scribe), operations chief, logistics chief, etc.  They cautiously, like rookies, started to search the facilities for survivors.  After about an hour, they found everyone.

Then it appeared the light came on.  This was not rocket science.

We asked if they wanted to “play” again.  And they jumped at the chance.  The second go around; the teams had a greater sense of confidence.

Practice is the best prescription for “CERT amnesia” (if we don’t use it, we loose it).  We need to practice what we have learned.  We need to explore means to do what we do in CERT better.  That way, when “we knock on wood”, we all can answer “Here we are!”  And we all know “who is there.”

See you at the next exercise.