Author Archives: David Cook

Packing the PPEs

A good friend of mine was fixing the attic fan in his home and as he climbed the ladder in the attic, he scratched his forehead on a crossbeam.  Crawling along, he picked up splinters in both hands and cut one hand replacing the fan belt.  On the way down the ladder, he missed the last two rungs and turned his ankle.

He knew the honeymoon was over when he limped into the kitchen and his wife took one look and said, “Are those your good pants?”

This was a similar reaction I got when I shared with my bride of 38 years (Jeannie Cook) that Aron Anderson from the All Hazards North Central Region had called asking for help to restock the gas masks and filters for the PPE’s.

“Who is Aron Anderson?” Jeannie asked.

“He is that nice guy who drops off the fire extinguishers for the CERT Classes”, I replied.

“Oh.  What is a PPE?” she asked back.

“A PPE is Personal Protection Equipment.  These bags are for Law Enforcement, Fire Fighters and Emergency Medical Services.  The filters and gas masks are rated for radiological, chemical, biological environments,” I answered.

“How many bags are we ‘packing’ and where are we doing this?”

“I am not sure, Aron said a bunch.  We will be doing this at the NCR warehouse, you know, where we get the fire extinguishers when Aron can’t bring them to Castle Rock and those manikins for the CERT exercises.”

“We are going to get kind of grimy and sweaty aren’t we?


“Don’t wear your good work clothes.”

Aron and I agreed on meeting on October 27 at 6 PM at the North Central Region’s warehouse.  I sent the request for volunteers to all of the O.M.E.G.A. members and with the lure of plenty of pizza and soda, I was able to get the Grahn Family (Melanie, John, Jaden and Trevor), Jeannie Cook, George Bartling, Gary Freeman and Donita Hilfinger.

As we entered the door, Aron informed us that we had about 1500 PPE bags.  From the corner of my eye, I could tell from the look from Jeannie that the honeymoon was over.  Plus I glanced down to my pants to make sure I did not have my good pants on.  I did not want to get into trouble twice that night.

But once we set up our assembly line, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.  Gary made sure we had a constant supply of face masks and filters.  A team member stuffed a bag with a filter and moved the bag down the line.  Another member would stuff a mask in the bag and move the bag down the line.  Another member would zip up the bag and toss it to the person who would stack the bags on the pallet.

With Trevor offering encouragement from his stroller (this is about as much that a 14 month old could offer) and Jaden would do his part and carry/drag the bags to be stacked.  Not bad for a five year old.

Then the pizzas came!  I must admit, they tasted pretty good.  But we could not extend our break too long and we went back to stuffing the PPE bags.  We discovered that we were running short of the masks, so we stuffed the remainder of the bags with just the filters and placed them in a different location.

All in all, it took us little over two hours to stuff 1500 bags.  And we were glad to give Aron a helping hand.

An Overview of Operation Mountain Guardian

For over a year, I have heard about this humongous multi-jurisdiction exercise called Operation Mountain Guardian (sometimes also called Oh My God, also shortened to OMG!)  From time to time I would ask my friends and associates within law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services if they needed help (like do you need role players, actors, folks who can make coffee, etc.).  And basically got the same answer: “We think we have it covered, but we will let you know.”

Then in the first week of August, I got a call from Carolyn Bluhm (Emergency Management Coordinator, Community Relations Specialist, City and County of Denver Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security).  She told me she just got off the phone with Lieutenant Stacey Goss (Exercise Director of OMG).  Lt. Goss asked if Carolyn could manage the role playing volunteers (it could be anywhere from 300 to 500).  Carolyn told her yes, but was holding her breath until she made one more phone call.

I was that next phone call.  I asked what would be the scope of the assistance.  Carolyn thought we had ten sites to manage; we will need to register the volunteers, provide snacks and food and arrange for moulage (applying make up to appear like injuries on selected role players).  But Carolyn said she was not sure.

I told Carolyn that we would need to meet with Lt. Goss as soon as possible, and anyone she recommended.  Within a week or two, Carolyn was able to have both of us to meet with Pony Anderson (Aurora Community College at Lowry), Fran Santagata (Douglas County Office of Emergency Management) and Lt. Goss herself.

We were able to get our ten sites down to three (Park Meadows, Smedley Elementary School and Aurora Community College at Lowry.  Snacks and food would be taken care of by the three jurisdictions, and moulage had been contracted out.

Therefore, all we had to do was “herd cats”.

In my first meeting with Pony Anderson, she laid out in detail what was being planned at Lowry.  Basically lots of area to cover and lots of role players (maybe 250).  Pony looked at me and said, “Why aren’t you freaking out?”

“What you want us to do is to make sure the volunteer role players don’t get lost, hurt, sick, lots of water and fed?”

Pony nodded.

“We have been doing this in the NCR’s Full Scale CERT exercises since 2006.  We have not lost a volunteer yet.”

Pony looked like the weight of the world was taken off her shoulders.

I had similar meetings with Stacy and Fran.

Each of the three sites had unique challenges: Park Meadows – 3 AM start time, Smedley – lock down with possibly bored students playing hostages and of course Lowry with lots of acreage and the most role players.


The Emergency Operations Center at the Disaster Management Institute at the Community College of Aurora served as the control room for all elements of the exercise. Photo courtesy of Community College of Aurora.

With each site I had in mind the Site Managers: Donita Hilfinger at Park Meadows– outside of myself, she was the most familiar with Fran; Gary Freeman at Smedley – Lt. Goss was not sure who would be at Smedly, but it would be someone from Denver Police Department – with Gary as former law enforcement, this seemed like a good fit and Jenn Scott at Lowry – knowing her personality would put Pony at ease.

George Bartling set up our communications needs so that we could talk to Smedley, Park Meadows, Lowry and the Denver EOC.  George is my hero.

As always, our teams went above the call of duty.  Prior to the start of OMG, the Lowry team helped straighten up and clean the Katrina Building.  During the exercise at Park Meadows, the Mall team helped place the role players.

My challenge was to see if I could use my mobile radio to broadcast out of the Denver EOC and communicate with all the other sites.  I used my 40 watt mobile radio, external power supply, magnetic mounted antenna, which connected to Jeannie’s (the XYL) old cookie sheet (acting as a ground plane).  I was concerned how well I could transmit and be received, being in a basement and downtown with all those tall buildings.

It worked really well!  I could contact George at Lowry and Donita at Park Meadows.  With Pat O’Neill, our radio person at Smedley, she could hear me, but had to use her cell phone to call me and to check in.

The only excitement reported to Denver EOC was when one of the Role Players got carried away with their role and this got the attention of the FBI.  After some discussion, everything seemed to be okay.

All in all, I believe the entire operation went very well!  Since OMG, I have received praise after praise on how professional and accommodating O.M.E.G.A. had been and they see us in a better light!

Denver CERT Graduation Exercise

In preparing for the next CERT Graduation, Gary Freeman, John Grahn and I thought this was going to be just another training exercise.  That was before we met Gil and Shirl Garcia.

Gil and Shirl attended a CERT Class being taught by Gary and myself at the City of Denver’s Human Resources Building at 1200 Federal, Denver Colorado.  Both Gil and Shirl were very attentive during the instruction, asked a lot of questions and participated in mini-exercises we sprinkled throughout the course.

But then, that is what we expect out of all students in our class.

What made Gil and Shirl stand out from the rest of the class?  Shirl is a survivor of Wilson’s Disease.  Wilson’s Disease is an inherited form of copper poisoning.

Copper in the blood exists in two forms: bound to ceruloplasmin (85–95%) and the rest “free” loosely bound to albumin and small molecules.  Free copper causes toxicity as it generates reactive oxygen species such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, the hydroxyl radical.  These damage proteins, lipids and DNA.

From my understanding about Wilson’s Disease, it causes the body to retain copper, since it is not excreted by the liver into the bile.  This disease, if untreated, can lead to brain and liver damage.

Shirl survived the initial attack (Wilson’s Disease does not always show up at birth and can be dormant for years), but it damaged her ability to talk, her walking gait is unsteady and her hand writing is as challenging to decipher as her verbal skills (although given time, you can start to understand her).  These challenges did not stop her from trying to communicate.  Shirl comes armed with a hand pad so she can write out her messages, she brings a lap top for more involved dialog and then there is her husband Gil, who is Shirl’s translator.

During lunch one day, after we had covered module 6 (Incident Command System), Shirl wanted to know if I thought she had what it takes to be an Incident Commander (the person responsible for all aspects of an emergency response).

I told her that I thought her biggest challenge would be to communicate her orders to the team.  Gil, her husband, said he did not think that would be a problem, as she has been bossing him around for years.  After Gil survived Shirl’s shoulder punch, I told Shirl that I have seen those who seem to have no disability have more trouble communicating with the incident team.  So if she felt up to the challenge, go for it or step up to one of the other positions in the basic CERT ICS: Operations Chief (responsible for the management of all operations of the incident), Logistics Chief (responsible for ordering additional personnel and equipment resources as needed), Planning Chief (collects, evaluates, processes and disseminates information for use at the incident) or the Administration Chief (incident documentation – notes and receipts).  I could tell the wheels were turning in her head.

On July 30, close to 80 brave CERT students joined Shirl and Gil and gathered at our testing site.  I would like to thank Pat O’Neill for registering the participants and Rose Critchfield for hiding the survivors (once John worked his moulage magic).

As John was preparing the survivors with their various injuries, both Gary and I were using this time to go over, very quickly, the highlights of the CERT curriculum.  This has been a nice review time for everyone.

Then Rose gave me the high sign and it was time to have the students “put up or shut up”.

Graduation Exercise

Denver CERT graduating class gathers for an incident briefing. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

Once the Incident Commander was selected and he was starting to select his General Staff (Operations, Planning, Administration and Logistics), he received a resounding tap on the arm.  It was Shirl, pointing the finger to her and in a clear voice: “Logistics”.

The IC looked over at me and Shirl tapped his arm, pointing to her portable note pad that had these words written: “If I can’t do the job, fire me.”  He looked at her and said, “Deal”.

Shirl was one of the best Logistics Chiefs that I have had the pleasure of observing.  She anticipated the needs of the team, offered alternatives when the plan was not working very well (it never does in our exercises).  The entire group of CERT students walked away with a new perspective on disabilities, thanks to Shril (one of them being – the disabled do not like being called “special”).  And she did this with out her Chief Translator, Gil, who was part of a search, rescue and triage team.

A few weeks later I ran into Shirl at the State of Colorado Functional and Access Needs Tabletop and Workshop held in Denver.  She shared with the workshop her perspective that just because she has a disability, does not mean that she can’t come up with a plan to help herself and her family in case of a disaster.  Thanks to the CERT class she had taken in Denver (Shirl and Gil live in southern Weld County) she was given a tremendous degree of freedom and control for her family and herself.

I did walk away that day thinking that Shirl and Gil were special.  Not because of Shirl’s disability or because Gil has been her chief cheerleader, but because they stepped up into the realm of volunteer emergency preparedness and are willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

So the next time you see a person in a wheel chair or a walker or holding a speech device, consider that what’s visible on the surface can be very different from what’s hidden underneath.

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.

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.

2010 Urban Area Security Initiative Conference

December 13 through 16, 2010, Max Khaytsus, George Sullivan and I had the privilege of attending the 2010 Urban Area Security Initiative Conference (UASI).  Max and I also had the privilege of being sponsored by the North Central Region All Hazards Region.  It is wonderful having members of O.M.E.G.A. be given the opportunity to attend these events and not have the burden of the expense of the conference impede our attendance.

The conference was a unique homeland security effort.  It had a large number of agencies and partners from across the region, as well as national and international representation, pitching in to help support and participate in the conference.  It was actually four conferences in one with the primary goal of bringing together emergency managers/first responders, healthcare professionals, business and critical infrastructure representatives and community preparedness and resiliency experts to share ideas on how to improve collective security.  Organized by tracks to help subject matter experts share ideas within their areas and then through combined sessions with other tracks, the conference was a ground-breaking effort in information-sharing.

The keynote speakers were exceptional, but for my personal edification, if the breakout sessions had an Israeli presenter, I went to that session.  I was never disappointed with the presenters.

Some of the memorable quotes:

1. On Suicide Bombers:

Question: We noticed that in 2008, there were over 1700 IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) detonating somewhere in Israel (Israel is about the size of New Jersey).  That is about five or six times a day.  Now in 2010, we see on the screen only 240 (once a day).  What changed?”

Answer: We finished building the wall around Gaza.  Now the terrorist have to go under the wall with tunnels, go over the wall with their missiles or go around the wall through the ocean (where our Navy is waiting for them).  It now takes them longer to get to their targeted destination with a higher risk of detection and capture.

2. On Airport Security:

a. “Do you do profiling in your Airport Security?”

b. Answer: “Yes.” (with a shrug of the shoulder and tilt of the head)

c. Follow up Question: “Does it bother you that people may be having their civil liberties disrupted or impacted.

d. Answer: “The Terrorist have been the only ones complaining.  Besides, it is more than just asking the questions.  Our trained security observes the response to the questions.  Since initiating this approach, we only had one hijacking from our airport in over 30 years.”

e. Question: “Isn’t your security screening easier because you have only one airport? (Ben Gurion International Airport)

f. Answer: Yes we have only one International Airport.  But we are a small country with only 7 million citizens.  You in America are 308 Million.  I think the ratio is in your favor.

3. On using volunteers:

a. Question to the audience: Why don’t you use your volunteers more?

b. As all the heads of our served agencies turned their heads in unison in my direction: “What do you mean?” I asked

c. Statement: “When I came to New Orleans to retrieve Jewish remains from the damaged areas created by Hurricane Katrina, my team was the only volunteers there.”

d. Response: Because you were there for religious reasons and have a foreign accent, you were given more latitude than your American counterparts.  For us in Colorado, we were very involved in Operation Safe Haven that provided a place of refuge for the hurricane survivors.  In our organization, O.M.E.G.A., we not only provide our own communication, but we are trained in Incident Command System protocols, that allow us to interface with the Operations Command Staff with very little instructional overhead on their part.”

e. Speakers Response: “So you do use volunteers, just differently.”

f. Answer: “Yes.”

There were no punches pulled or excuses given at the conference.  It was a great exchange of information from the experts (professional and volunteer) to the audience.  And sometimes the audience and the presenter changed seats.

Bottom line, I had a great time!

Teaching CERT in the North Central Region

Back in August of 2009 I noticed some urgent e-mails from the chairperson of the Colorado North Central Region (NCR) requesting an instructor for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class at Denver University (DU) for the month of September.  After the third e-mail from other sources in NCR, I threw my hat in the ring and volunteered to help.

My offer was immediately accepted and I was asked if I could recruit other instructors to help if needed (their instructor resources had dried up).  I knew that would not be a problem, because at the time, in O.M.E.G.A., we had five other certified instructors besides me.

Since our first class with DU, we have not looked back and we have now completed our eighth CERT class where O.M.E.G.A. has totally facilitated the class instruction.  Our source benefactor in arranging and scheduling these classes has been the City and County of Denver.

CERT Class

The City and County of Denver has provided instruction for over 1500 citizens in the CERT curriculum.  Whereas O.M.E.G.A. did not teach all 1500, our contribution had a major impact and was appreciated.  We enjoy a trusted relationship with the City and County of Denver.

Since June of 2006, O.M.E.G.A. has been teaching CERT as we were given the tasks of organizing and planning full scale exercises for the North Central Region.  These exercise allowed graduating CERT alumni to practice and keep current the lessons learned in CERT classes.

One of the areas of challenge we noticed was that the CERT students did not have a clear understanding of the Incident Command System structure (ICS).  ICS is a structure that fire departments, law enforcement and other first responders use during a disaster.  It was like teaching a foreign language.  In each class session we would practice ICS by having the class bring in the instructional equipment, such as the fire extinguishers, for the fire suppression part of the class, or the “CERT IN A BOX” equipment for the medical triage part of the class.  By the time of the graduation exercise was scheduled, ICS had started to become less of a mystery.

But CERT is more than just teaching ICS.  We cover medical triage and the differences between it and regular first aid and CPR.  We cover fire safety and how a CERT member can extinguish small fires.

It is wonderful to have families in the class and teaching all of them how they can move someone as big as dad out of the house, even if he is unconscious.  They know they will not make any land speed records, but they also learn that they can do it and more importantly, they can do it without getting anyone hurt.

Or having an 85 year old retired school teacher documenting where each victim is located, so that the rescue team will know where to go.  Or documenting who went into a building and where they are at any given point in the rescue.  At the end of the class she stopped saying that she was too old because she knew she had a lot to contribute.

If you don’t know what medical triage is, how ICS works or what the “3 killers in a disaster” are, perhaps you should sign up for a CERT class or come to one of our exercises.  Don’t know where these classes or exercises are or when?  It is really easy to find out!  Just click onto our webpage at