Author Archives: Jennifer Scott

Operation Mountain Guardian at Lowry Campus

When the City of Denver asked us to help coordinate approximately four hundred role players for Operation Mountain Guardian, several thoughts went through my head.  “Wow, that is a lot!”, “Okay, we can do that.  Piece of cake.” and “Do we have enough resources to spread ourselves out for this project?”

After the first few meetings we discovered that we needed individuals at three of the main locations to help coordinate the role players and keep track of them while they were there.  Donita got assigned to Park Meadows, Gary to Smedley Elementary School and Max and I to Community College of Aurora, Lowry campus.

At the Lowry location we were asked to help out with coordinating and managing the building and props that would be used during the exercise in addition to the role players.  Many hours were spent sorting and preparing clothes and other donated goods for the ‘hotel’ scene that would be in play.  Many volunteers also spent several days cleaning the building that was to be used and staging the props to make it look like a real long stay hotel.

While on this assignment, we met volunteers that went out of their way to help us with these objectives and several new friendships were made.  At one point, we were offered a sum of money in exchange for the help we were providing.  While this offer was appreciated, we declined the offer.  O.M.E.G.A. does not charge for its services.  For us the bigger accomplishment was the relationships and the friendships being made with a new agency.

Having approximately 200 role players at our site alone, Max and I quickly realized that we’d need more help controlling all of the role players and keeping track of where they were to be at all times.  So I made lots of calls and sweet talked several of our members and others who help us on a regular basis and asked them to help with this huge task.

OMG Explosion

Explosions at the playing field leave behind many victims. Photo Courtesy of the Community College of Aurora.

When September 23 rolled around, we were armed with a dozen people dressed in purple, stationed in various places to make sure that everyone got to the right location, had food to eat and stayed warm in the chilly building.  We had two people that panicked when gunfire sounded near them and the realism set in and we had one person that got stung by a bee that resulted in an allergic reaction and needed to be transported off campus.  All three of these folks recovered and the purple squad of O.M.E.G.A. staff handled each case with ease and lack of panic.

All in all, the experience was good for several reasons.  We learned more about how to organize a huge exercise, how our local emergency services would respond in a terrorist attack and that there is more involved in planning for role players then just showing up and signing them in.

At the end of the day I found myself going over those first questions that I had after the initial meeting.  “Wow, that is a lot!”  Yes it was a lot, but we managed to make due at all the locations without many problems.  We brought in volunteers who have worked with us in the past to support this effort.  “Okay, we can do that.  Piece of cake.”  It was true, we could do it.  It was a bigger cake then just one piece, but we managed to get it done.  It was also one of the best cakes we enjoyed all year.  All the hard work was well worth the effort.  “Do we have enough resources to spread ourselves out for this project?”  Indeed we did!  Large scale situations such as this is the reason agencies create mutual aid agreements.  No one can tackle a large disaster on their own.  Building partnerships in advance is invaluable.

It was a great experience and I would gladly do it again if we are asked.

APD @ OMG

Aurora police officers cross the Lowry Campus after an explosion in the playing field. Many areas of the sprawling Lowry Campus were used in this terrorism exercise. Photo courtesy of the Community College of Aurora.

GPS Geocaching Adventure

“How does this GPS thing work?” “You go geocaching?  What is that?”  These are common questions that members of O.M.E.G.A. have heard over the past year.  Many of us have been geocaching for several years now and have experience with several different GPS units.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS units.  The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors.  Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.

In order to help others understand how to use a GPS to find geocaches or just to use it for navigation, we set up an outing for Easter weekend.  A couple of O.M.E.G.A. members placed a series of temporary caches in Castlewood Canyon State Park on April 23 for a fun ‘Easter Egg’ hunt.

About a dozen people showed up for the hunt.  It was a drizzly, brisk morning, but with the geocaches already hidden, everyone decided to head out and search anyway.  As we left the parking lot, several returned to their cars for warmer clothing, batteries for the GPSs and other forgotten items.  Soon enough, all were headed out and looking for the first set of coordinates.  All but two went off in one direction.  What kept those two back?  They decided the coordinates in their GPS units lead them in a different direction.  While they debated if they were right or not, since everyone else went another direction, the group headed back their way.

Castlewood Canyon

Castlewood Canyon is an area ripe for GPS training. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

So, with everyone on the same path, we started out for the first set of coordinates.  As with many geocachers, the idea of following a trail to get where you need to go is unheard of.  “Why go that way, when I can go in a straight line?”  No matter that there are trees, bushes, thorns, etc. in the way.

Several of the searchers took the time to program the GPS units and tried using the compass to help them find there way and others just recorded the numbers on paper and started walking to match what they were looking for with what the GPS unit was displaying.  Once in the general location, they were told that with the many different brands of GPS units, they should look in a 15 to 20 foot radius for the actual coordinates.  This is a lot harder than it may sound.  They looked in trees, under bushes and behind rocks.  It was one of the younger participants that finally located the camouflaged, duct-tape plastic Easter egg under a rock in a crevice.  This treasure contained several smaller eggs with candy in them to help give them all a boost for the next phase of the hunt.

With a better understanding of what they were doing and a quick sugar fix, the group headed out for find number two.  Many of them once again headed off the paved trail to follow the direct path of where they wanted to go.  It took some time for everyone to realize that they were making more work for themselves then was necessary.  The good news was that everyone was having fun and enjoying sharing stories while walking.

Castlewood Dam

Remnants of the old Castlewood Dam. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

After a few hours, a total of five ‘caches’ had been found and everyone had prizes from the finds.  Many of them now understood how to use their GPS units and others where ready to go shopping for one of their own.  Everyone wanted to know if another event could be scheduled, and so the planning for a second GPS training began.  It was agreed that Father’s Day would be a good time for some of them to request a GPS unit from family members and that soon after would be a good time to use them.

We planned another outing for July 2, this time to Devil’s Head Fire Lookout.  There were a few real caches in this area and the plan was to hide six or seven more for everyone to find on the way up.  This trip was not as successful for hunting as the previous one, but in the end, everyone had a good hike and lots of fun.

As the seekers started out behind the hider, they started looking for the location that appeared to be closest to them.  This turned out to be a mistake that would send us searching all over the side of the mountain we were on.  A few got discouraged and decided to head on up the trail to enjoy the hike and the beautiful day.  The hider hiked back down to join us and locate the cache that could not be found.

Devil's Head Fire Lookout

Devil’s Head Fire Lookout above Pike National Forest. Photo by M. Khaytsus.

It turned out that the first one that was closest to us on the GPS units was actually the second cache hidden, on the return of a switchback.  And as always, the search had been off the obvious trail, so we had missed the first one all together.  Another group headed on up the trail to join the first and a few stayed back with the hider to relocate the caches and pick them up.

It turned out that in the time it had taken the hider to get up the mountain and hide the geocaches, then turn around and come back and head up again, a couple of them were found by other hikers and removed.  It was surprising to us how fast that could have happened.  The party at the top of the hill went in search of one of the real caches and had a successful find, which made the trip that much more rewarding.  The last group up asked a bystander climber to help get a geocache that was approximately 30 feet off the ground.  The man was confused at first, but climbed up and passed the cache down to us to sign and then was kind enough to return it to its hiding place.

Once everyone had hiked to the top, snacked on some food and enjoyed the views, we headed back down.  We were met by sprinkles of rain about midway down, but avoided the hard rain until after getting in the cars and driving away.  Even with the trials and tribulations, O.M.E.G.A. was asked to plan another GPS outing.  It turns out that everyone likes getting out and about, no matter the outcome of the geocaching adventure.

We hope to have another geocache seeking adventure towards the end of the summer.  Stay tuned for details if you are interested in joining the fun.