Category Archives: Mission Briefing

Antonio’s Rescue

A component of search and rescue is technical rescue.  This is far more common in mountain rescue and in cave rescue than it is in urban settings, but there are times when this is a necessary skill and regardless of the setting, performing the rescue requires very specific skills.
One of the components of Operation Rumble in the Rockies was introducing a stranded window washer 25 feet off the ground.  He was too far away from the window for responders to reach and the roof was inaccessible.  Exercise participants — ARES, CERT, MRC and ground SAR — did not have the skills to perform a technical rescue and the idea was to recognize a limitation in capabilities and request resources to solve the problem.

The attached video is a demonstration of what a a technical rope rescue would look like.  This is similar to what you would see in mountain and cave settings.

Members of OMEGA hold two vertical training sessions each month to allow our members to develop and maintain the skills required to perform rescues such as this.

Broken Watch

Invicta Automatic Watch

The clear back of an Invicta automatic watch shows the motion activated self-winding mechanism.

My sisters always get mad at me. A few years ago they thought that a milestone birthday deserved an extra special gift, so they got me a “super watch”, an Invicta automatic watch. This isn’t just a watch. It’s a top of the line chronometer, very beautiful, waterproof to 200 meters, and, most importantly, needs neither winding, nor batteries. It “self-winds” as it is worn. The motion of the wrist actuates a pendulum and stores the kinetic energy from movement, enabling the watch to run. I’ll be honest, I was floored. It’s an amazing watch and far more expensive a watch than I think I deserve.

But I just don’t wear the watch and that causes a lot of strife. My sisters contend that a beautiful watch is not to sit in a display case, but to be worn on a wrist. I agree with them. But a watch on my wrist is a special case.

I’ve been wearing watches since I’ve been 9 years old. I have my father to thank for that. He got me my first watch and it was a nice watch. I still own it. But in 1995 I got my first pager and it showed the time and the watch faded away. When I “upgraded” to a cell phone, the pager faded. And a smartphone made the “dumb” phone fade away. And through all this the watch never came back. In this business of search and rescue and emergency management redundancy is very important, but redundancy to know the time is not. You tend to be very conscious of the time when on a mission and it’s not because of the watch.

Broken Watch

Technical rescue puts personal equipment at risk.

About the only time I wear a watch these days is when I’m in a place where my phone does not have signal or stands a good chance of being damaged. Generally that’s in a cave, on a cliff or in a remote wilderness. And because of these environments, my watch budget is about $5. I need a watch that tells time and that I won’t cry over when I destroy it. I destroy a lot of watches. This year I blew out the band on a watch when at the cave rescue training in Texas. The watch still works, but it will never be able to be attached to a wrist band again. And this weekend I managed to crack the face on a favorite cave watch. It was favorite because the hands were phosphorescent and would glow in the dark. Very cool in a cave. And easy to tell time in the dark.

So that brings me back to the Invicta. I really do love it. It’s an amazing piece of finely crafted precision technology and something that requires no human intervention to run. That’s good, because I always forgot to wind manual watches when I had them. I’ll wear this watch to a wedding or a high society event or even a night at the theater – not a movie theater or a dinner theater, mind you – a Broadway play kind of theater. But I can’t justify such an amazing watch for my everyday environments. Knowing what I do and how hard I am on my gear, it’s only a matter of time before I scratch it or crack it or just destroy it.

Operation Rumble in the Rockies

Operation Rumble in the Rockies, a North Central Region full scale exercise.

Technical Rope Rescue

Responders working in the air to rescue an unconscious window washer.

This weekend we hosted Operation Rumble in the Rockies, a regional full scale exercise combining many teams from across the region. Part of the exercise was rescuing an unconscious window washer trapped twenty feet above ground. It’s technical rope rescue and in a light breeze there’s still a bunch of swaying that happens on rope. Great news! We saved the window washer. My watch wasn’t nearly as lucky.

This past Friday was National Siblings Day and I love my sisters. I should probably tell them that more often. On Saturday I destroyed another watch and I’m grateful that it cost around $5 and most likely delivered that value to me in the amount of time that I had it. As I was retiring the watch today, I thought the convergence of events over the weekend was interesting. Worthy of an article, at least.

2013 Flooding — Then and Now

The September 2013 floods had our team deploy to multiple locations.  One of the tasks we performed was a flood survey for Aurora Parks, Recreation and Open Space.  A lot of the open space in Aurora doubles as drainage retention areas during bad weather.  Utah Park in western Aurora is one such location and even though it was recently redesigned to hold more runoff, it strained under the massive inflow of water.

We performed a survey in the western part of the city on September 12.  Many places were flooded.  Portions of Havana, Alameda and Peoria were under water.  Many lakes overflowed, including Jewell and Expo.  But the greatest amount of damage was in Utah Park.

The following pictures show the flood (September 12) and what the park normally looks like (September 21, after the water level came down to normal levels).

Utah Park Flooding

Utah Park, with the picnic shelter in the background. Photos by M Khaytsus.

Utah Park Flooding

The Utah Park playground is completely submerged in the flood waters. Photos by M Khaytsus.

Utah Park Flooding

Utah Park ball fields double as a lake for a flock of geese. Photos by M Khaytsus.

Utah Park Flooding

A kayaker takes to the Utah Park flood plain near the picnic shelter. Photos by M Khaytsus.

Shootout at Park Meadows

September 15, in-conjunction with the Lone Tree Police, Park Meadows Security and Macy’s Loss Prevention, O.M.E.G.A. staged a training exercise in Park Meadows Mall.  The exercise consisted of four scenarios testing reaction to various threats in the mall.

Park Meadows Mall

Park Meadows Mall is “Colorado’s only retail resort”. Photo courtesy of Blakefield Properties.

The first scenario consisted of an active shooter attacking the mall security offices after shooting up the Food Court.  I was the active shooter and was armed with a blue replica M4.  The situation started on the walkway by the Food Court.  It was hard to pick out targets from the controllers at first, but then the Smokey Bear hat gave a good identification marker.  After tossing off a couple shots I hustled into the food court and found many victims to shoot at.  Those who made noises got shot again.  I experienced no opposition and was able to penetrate the inner corridors of the mall.  Navigating the maze of hallways delayed me just long enough that I heard the mall office door being locked as I approached.  I squeezed off a lot of bullets through the walls, but was unable to see any results.  The next set of offices were deserted.  I then went around looking for security to mix it up with.  After a short shoot out I was pinned into a very unenviable situation.  Despite my goading, I could not get security to expose themselves to danger and I was unable to escape.

The second scenario was a hostage situation.  Security was not delayed by the distractions I left behind.  They quickly bypassed the unimportant stuff and fixed on my position.  Despite my best bombardment of insults, security was not breached and the situation was neutralized.

The third scenario featured an active shooter engaging a search team.  After creating a disturbance in front of Macy’s, I found myself in a back hallway once again.  I thought the police might be entering from one of two locations, but I was wrong. They came from above, but fortunately my position was covered and they never saw what hit them until after two had fallen.

The fourth scenario consisted of some crazy fellow with a weird accent.  He blew away a bunch of us with a satchel charge hidden in a waste bin.  Security quickly located and despite not being armed, moved in on him.  Unfortunately the bomber had a dead man’s switch and there were several more casualties then were necessary.

There was a number of lessons learned in this exercise:

• if you don’t take the situation seriously enough, you could easily be hurt

• tactics and plans have been developed for a reason

• no matter your best effort, there will be something unexpected

• if the situation is contained there is no reason to endanger yourself

I enjoyed playing the bad guy very much and sincerely hope that the simulation helps those who participated be better prepared for real emergencies.

Blue Gun

KFC Delivery

A bucket of chicken.  Not the original recipe and not extra crispy.  Just a large red bucket with two chickens in it.  Two live chickens.  Two very unhappy live chickens.  In a bucket.  A good dozen people stood around it, staring.  “Did someone order chicken?” a voice asked.  “It’s fresh,” someone else commented.

Chickens and disaster operations don’t normally go together, but the 2006 PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) Act, passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, requires that pets (not commercial livestock) be evacuated and sheltered with their owners.  The distinction between livestock and pets can be fuzzy at times.  If the owner says that it’s a pet chicken, then it’s a pet chicken.  You roll with the blows.

Colorado weather is always unusual, but some years are more unusual than others.  September started out a blisteringly hot month.  O.M.E.G.A., together with the City of Aurora, the American Red Cross and Gardens on Havana, hosted the National Preparedness Month Fair on September 7.  The morning started out with temperatures already in the low 70s, unseasonably hot – not just warm – for the time of year.  We blasted past 80ºF mid morning and past 90ºF late morning and by noon the thermometer reading was in the high 90s.  The brisk traffic at the fair was declining.  By 2 PM the air was hot and heavy, the asphalt radiated heat and you couldn’t get comfortable no matter where you took shelter.  Traffic at the fair was dead.  We called it at 3 PM, two hours ahead of schedule.

NPMF 2013 APD

Aurora Police took part at the 2013 National Preparedness Month Fair. Photo by M Khaytsus.

NPMF 2013 AFD

Multiple vehicles from the Aurora Fire Department were available for attendees to examine at the 2013 National Preparedness Month Fair. Photo by M Khaytsus.

That was the weekend.  But on Monday things changed.  A cold front rolled in, colliding with the hot moist air already hanging over Colorado.  It stalled out over the Front Range and started to rain.  It rained all day Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Thursday water levels were rising and response was gearing up and the rain was still pouring.  O.M.E.G.A. deployed people to support various communications functions in the metropolitan area.  Then Friday came.  Emergency Operations Centers were being stood up and resources were being deployed.

On Friday morning we received an inquiry from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management if we had resources to deploy over the weekend.  They were not sure what they needed, but they knew that the weather would require a lot of resources and were starting to line them up.  We had a busy weekend ahead of us with commitments to the Dinosaur Ridge Preparedness Fair on Saturday and the Lone Tree Active Shooter exercise on Sunday.  But life safety comes first.  We assured DHSEM that we would make resources available if they needed us.

And it wasn’t long before we received a request.  By late morning we were being asked for three resources to serve as an overhead incident management team to standup a shelter until local resources become available to run it.  We were asked to report to a church in Longmont at 3 PM for a twelve hour shift.  Just for the comfort of a buffer, we deployed four people.  The team arrived at the church an hour ahead of schedule.  The parking lot was split into multiple areas.  There was a bus area for evacuees, a parking area for staff, a donation management area for incoming goods and a huge section of the lot was used for staging by Colorado Task Force 1.  You see that and you know that this is serious.  USAR packs a lot of gear when they travel.

Boulder Flood - Road House

Washed out roads and houses forced off their foundation was the result of the 12” to 18” inches of rain that came down in under 24 hours on Thursday. Photo courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.

We made contact with the management staff at the church.  It was clear that they had resources.  What we first thought were church leaders running the show turned out to be members of the Boulder County emergency management team.  We met with them, made a few calls to the Boulder County EOC and were reassigned to the Niwot High School to get them running.

Getting to Niwot from Longmont is normally an easy trip, but it requires crossing the St. Vrain Creek.  That sounds easy enough, but the reality of the situation was that the “creek” was wider than the Mississippi and had taken out a lot of infrastructure – roads, bridges, whole neighborhoods in places.  In fact, all the rivers between Fort Collins and Denver had overflown and wiped out good chunks of the infrastructure.  I-25 was closed north of State Highway 7 due to flooding.  We had to go to Niwot by back roads that were either on high ground or consisted of high bridges and still remained above the flood.  There weren’t a lot of those left.

Boulder Flood - Car River

The rushing waters did not discriminate. Houses, bridges and vehicles were all victims of the flood. Photo courtesy of City of Longmont OEM.

The most visible presence at the Niwot High School was the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.  We made contact with the deputy who appeared to be in charge and started integrating ourselves at the scene.  For whatever political reasons, the Red Cross was pulling out, leaving the facility unmanaged.  The sheriff’s office was focused on security.  The school staff was focused on facilities.  There was a gaggle of spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers.  Our team needed to figure out how to make things work.

The biggest issue was managing the volunteers.  They were all over the place, but nothing seemed to be getting done.  We identified the leaders in that group and started the process of reducing duplication and focusing efforts.  It was clear right off the bat that the existing credentialing system was a mess.  There were several places where individuals at this location were being documented.  There was a registration table where at least three credentialing systems were in use.  Some volunteers were meeting buses coming in from the evacuation area and signing people in as they stepped off the bus.  The problem with this was that a lot of these people were coming to Niwot as a waypoint, not an end destination and we were ending up with lists of people who were not at the facility.  We literally had hundreds of people on the books and we couldn’t account for most of them.

To make things more complicated, during the few hours that the Red Cross was on scene, they started signing people in as well, then when they left, they took some of their paperwork and some that was initiated by other volunteers.

We stopped all registration, let the sheriff’s office secure the perimeter, identified key volunteers who we would use to continue registration.  Everything was centralized.  The old paperwork went in a box.  New paperwork was started.  We were registering staff, volunteers, evacuees who chose to stay at the shelter and animals.  We had a small zoo worth of animals.  Somewhere by 10 PM we knew exactly who was on campus and what their role was.  This was a major breakthrough to regaining control of the scene.

We established a unified command with the sheriff’s office and the school’s administration.  That was probably the best way to tackle the problem because each of us held a piece of the puzzle and we needed to work as a team to succeed.

By midnight we were down to eleven staff – two from the Sheriff’s Office, two from the school, three church volunteers and four O.M.E.G.A. members – about fifty residents, four dogs, one cat and a mouse in a jar.

In theory our twelve hour shift was up at 3 AM, but we all knew that at best we had to stay until morning hours when more staff would arrive.  We touched base with the State EOC to find out what plans there were to bring in a fresh team.  We were told that at best a new team would be available Saturday night.  More realistically, FEMA Corps was being ramped up and that team was expected to arrive Sunday morning.  This sounded great, except we were just an hour into Saturday and most of our team had been up for about 20 hours now.  There was definitely a safety rule being bent here.

We took advantage of the quiet time during the night to get inventory resolved and determine what we needed to transition into the next operational period.

The community was amazingly generous.  As soon as the evacuation as on, someone started a community Facebook page and that spread like wildfire through the town.  Neighbors brought in blankets, towels, clothes, toiletries, games, toys, books.  The tables on the east side of the cafeteria commons were loaded high with sorted items ready to be given out to the evacuees.  The west side of the commons was as crowded as the east side, with donations that were yet to be sorted.

During the day food was cooked on site three times a day with different organizations taking turns.  We had the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptists, the Rocky Mountain Christian Church and others serving meals.  There was also a ton of extra food lying around for snacks.  Fruit, crackers, cookies, granola, etc., most given to us by the Salvation Army.  What we were short on was water.  We had about 60 cases in stock, but we figured that at a gallon per person per day this was not going to last.  And we expected more residents and more volunteers to come Saturday.

We put out requests to the State EOC and the Boulder County EOC for 80 more cases of water, requested support managing the animals at the shelter and indicated that people coming in would probably require some sort of on-site medical support.

Then just as you think that you have the disaster under control, something new comes up.  Around 4 AM one of the evacuees reported that bathrooms were not flushing.  We checked and sure enough, flushing resulted in a mere trickle.  The vice principal on duty called the Left Hand Water District and they told us that it was a problem on our end and that we needed to bring in a plumber.  We struggled with getting the school district’s plumber to come in, but managed to arrange for him to come at day break.  He would have to navigate across some really bad terrain to get to us.  Then at 5 AM we spoke with the Left Hand Water District again.  This time they fessed up that the problem was on their side.  The flood took out their pumps and they had not been refilling the water tower during the day.  When the tower emptied, we were out of water.  That included all of Niwot, parts of Longmont and a good portion of unincorporated northeast Boulder County.  Their estimate for time to repair was 24 hours.

Now we had a new problem.  Water is critical.  We were already under a boil order because the health department was worried that there was contamination in the water intake, but we could still use this water to shower and flush toilets.  Now we had nothing.  We scrambled to get additional resources from the county and the state.  Two port-a-potties were scheduled to be brought in around 8 AM.  Until then everyone was asked to flush using a bucket of pond water.

The volunteers started rolling in before the sun was fully up.  We took care to make sure they understood the new process that we had established and followed it to the letter.  Unlike the previous day, the secure perimeter was pulled in from the parking area to the school building and we had good documentation regarding who was in the facility.

In the morning the school district brought in their own incident management team and we transitioned the incident to them by 8 AM, but we were asked to stay on until more resources would become available.  We were still in charge of all credentialing and personnel movements and had a seat on the command staff to coordinate needs.

Boulder Flood - CONG Rescue

Pulling people out of flooded areas was an operation lasting several days. Photo courtesy of the Colorado National Guard.

Boulder Flood - Airlift

Fifteen National Guard Chinooks flew non-stop to get trapped residents out of their communities. Photo by M Khaytsus.

State EOC informed us that the National Guard would be flying fifteen Chinooks to evacuate people trapped in mountain communities and Niwot, due to high ground and proximity to the Boulder Airport, would be the primary destination for all these people, in spite of there being no running water.  Boulder County volunteered to deliver a portable 500 gallon water cistern with non-potable water to give us more resources.

When the community woke up and realized that there was no water at the school, people would simply go to the grocery store and pick up one or two or ten cases of water and bring them over.  Someone secured fifty cases and delivered them to us.  Someone else managed to secure a dozen five gallon Deep Rock water jugs and they were delivered to us.  By the time Boulder County delivered the water that we had ordered overnight, we were already up to our gills in water.  And ultimately Anheuser Busch stepped up and brought in a trailer full of water.  We had more water than we could possibly use.

It wasn’t too far into the morning before the buses started rolling in and unloading people.  The good news, if there was any, is that most of the arrivals had family or friends locally or in other parts of Colorado and stayed only long enough to be picked up and taken away to a home away from home.  Ultimately far less than 5% of the arrivals ended up staying at the shelter.

Boulder Flood - KFC Delivery

The arrival of two chickens in a bucket went viral in social media. Photo by M Khaytsus.

Along with shelter residents, we received animals.  What lightened the burden was the arrival of four Boulder County animal control officers.  They took over the management of the animal area and made some modifications, having brought in their own kennels and equipment.  They brought an aquarium for Mr. Mouse, our now very popular rodent visitor, allowing him to upgrade from the jar that he was calling home.

There was a lot of commotion around noon as a large red bucket was taken off a bus.  Most of the commotion was coming from inside the bucket.  It was a pair of chickens, very indignant at the mode of transportation they were being subjected to.  While their owners filled out the shelter paperwork, the chickens were handed over to one of the animal control officers and taken to the animal wing, where they were transferred to a kennel.  The chickens were by far the most unusual residents we had received and by the virtue of having arrived in a bucket, were from then forward referred to as the “KFC Delivery”.  They became incredibly famous in a matter of hours and when we posted an update about the chickens on our Facebook page, the news was quickly picked up the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, then by Denver’s KMGH Channel 7 and by Fort Collins’ KGWN Channel 5, as well as a number of non-profits and local businesses and the chickens went viral.  In a matter of twelve hours we had over 200 shares of the story and well over forty thousand views.  Our website was viewed several hundred times that evening and people from all over Colorado reached out, asking what they could donate or how they could help.  Some even offered to adopt the chickens.  We feared that Niwot would be overrun by well-wishers in connection with the chicken story.

A lot of the human arrivals were distraught.  They lost their homes.  One elderly woman lost her home to a forest fire a year earlier and it was just rebuilt.  She moved into the new house the first week of September.  Now, less than a week later, this home was gone as well.  Victim Advocates from the Sheriff’s office were brought in to help people deal with their grief.  And we started receiving medical personnel, mostly volunteers from the county Medical Reserve Corps.  They were able to start dealing with the minor injuries that people had, addressing their chronic conditions and helping them obtain refill prescription medication.

3 PM came and left.  We were past our second twelve hour operational period.  The functions we were managing still had no one to take them over.  The school district and the State EOC were scrambling to come up with other resources to replace our zombie-like personnel.  Around 5:30 PM a Red Cross DAT (Disaster Action Team) arrived at the school.  We held a large command staff meeting and transitioned our functions over to them.  Other resources in the school also transitioned for the night shift.  It was after 6:30 in the evening that our team embarked on the long trip back to Denver, having to navigate around the still overflowing  streams and flooded areas.

At the end of the day our members had a 30 hour deployment and most were up between 40 and 45 hours straight.  A lot of times when we talk to the community, people ask us what it’s like responding to a disaster.  It always varies with the nature of the disaster and the tasks that we are assigned to accomplish.  Our standard answer, if you’ve never heard it before, is very applicable to this particular deployment.  Most of the time it’s on a weekend or holiday, in bad weather and after dark.  It’s not sexy.  It’s hard.  At the end of the day you just want to find your pillow and pull the blanket over your head.  But you sure feel good that when you walked away you were able to make a difference in someone’s life.  Our members don’t do this for money.  They do it because it’s hard work and it feels good.

Flood Waters

On the morning of September 13 Eileen received a text asking about her availability to deploy to assist with shelter operations in support of the Colorado floods.  The request came to us from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  Luckily I was available and allowed to tag along.  We left our house a little bit after 1 PM.  We made good time until running into the I-25 closure just south of E-470.  Not deterred, we found an alternate route on CR1 for several miles until we could jump back on I-25 and continue to the LifeBridge Church.  On the way there we passed over the St. Vrain River and it was very evident why the highway had been closed. The bridges were lucky to survive the boiling high waters.  We rendezvoused with Max and Jenn at the church.  After checking in at the front desk we attempted to identify our assignment.  While our role was being discussed I was able to assist my first evacuee – an elderly gentleman who was confused and exhausted, looking for the shower.  By the time I got back from that mission, it was decided that our services were needed at the evacuation center at Niwot High School.

Boulder Flood

Boulder County flooding. Boulder County OEM.

Flood damage was very evident along our route.  Upon arriving at the high school, we found volunteers everywhere.  The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were on scene.  Evacuees were being billeted in the gym and pets were kept in the science area.  Clothing supplies were plentiful and there was a constant stream of donations coming in.  It seemed the only thing in shortage were phone chargers.  After getting nowhere with AT&T, I strong-armed Wal-Mart into donating six chargers.  Unfortunately, Eileen and I headed out without confirming Wal-Mart’s coordinates.  After a much longer trip than necessary, we arrived back at the school as the Salvation Army and Red Cross were pulling out.  Max assumed the IC role and went about coordinating with the EOC, Boulder Sheriff and the school district.  One of the first things to accomplish was to determine what was on hand and to tighten security up.  I was able to assist by counting cats, dogs and cots.  Then I maintained watch until relieved by some other volunteers who proceeded to watch the gym and science center all night long.

I managed to grab a nap around 4 in the morning.  I woke up to find out that the water system had failed while I was sleeping.  It turned out the whole water district had lost water as a tank had not been filling during the day.  A plan was put in place for port-a-potties to be brought in.  Until they arrived any toilets used were to be flushed with non-potable water gathered from the school’s sprinkler reservoir.  Everybody handled the inconvenience with good humor.  Breakfast was served by a local church and there was plenty for everybody.  Plans were made for laundry and dish cleaning in case the water shortage was extended.  During the day there was a constant stream of evacuees.

The speed with which evacuees, volunteers and donations arrived was staggering.  Jenn did an excellent job maintaining a list of current residents.  Max continued to keep everyone involved throughout the day.  During the day I was able to help many evacuees with small little tasks they wouldn’t have needed help with in a normal situation.  The stories of many the people were incredible and the spirit of all was great.  I think it was amazing that almost every incoming person had a relative or friend they could stay with.  Despite the constant flood of incoming helicopters, we had less permanent guests then when we had started.

I felt honored that this opportunity to serve became available to me.  The time spent in this deployment has enriched my life and will never be forgotten.

Cave Rescue with CCRN

Every couple of years the Colorado Cave Rescue Network (CCRN) holds a two day long cave rescue seminar.  Technically, it’s a half day seminar, a half day workshop and a full day functional exercise.  Students come with some existing skill sets, but not all students have the same skill sets, which is both good and bad for the event.

The CCRN is a local representative of the National Speleological Society’s (NSS) rescue organization, the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC).  The NCRC teaches several week long classes where students come in with a certain common foundation, most notably vertical skills proficiency, and are taught an assortment of other cave rescue related skills including medical, confined space rescue, vertical rescue, incident command and other related elements.  Cave rescue is in many ways a special beast.  It combines elements from many different disciplines and utilizes them with the assumption that the rescuers have limited or no support from the outside world.

The April 2013 CCRN training was held in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and brought together some four dozen individuals representing local search and rescue teams and the local caving community.  This was my fourth go at a CCRN weekend seminar and I have to say that no two have been the same to date.  I’ve learned something new every time and experienced new challenges at every session.

Saturday mornings are lecture time.  The basics are covered and disclaimers are issued.  Students are taught about caving safety, rescue considerations, underground communications, medical issues.  One would say, “hey, you’re a SAR, you do this stuff all the time!”  Not really.  Caves really are different.  A dumb move on the surface generally ends up being an annoying (and possibly painful) inconvenience and maybe teammates poking fun at the unlucky responder for months to come.  Underground a goof could cost valuable time, create additional patients, severely impact limited resources and, in extreme cases, could be a life threatening incident.

ICS at CCRN

Rick Speaect teaching the Incident Command System, an overview. Photo by M Khaytsus.

CaveSim at CCRN

A packaged patient entering the cave simulator. Photo by D Jackson.

Saturday afternoon the class continued into outdoor hands-on practice breakouts, including setup of communications lines from scratch, using military field phones, patient packaging and two patient carry simulations, one through a playground obstacle course and a second one through a confined space cave simulator where hitting faux formations would result in warning beeps and a rapidly diminishing score.

In the evening exhausted students and instructors gathered for dinner and talked about how the day went and what the day to come would bring.  All we knew was that there would be some lost cavers in Glenwood Caverns and that we would be rescuing them.  Not much more was known.  We did find out that Rick Speaect was going to be the incident commander and he had the night to figure out a plan, not really knowing what he was planning for.

Rick is a long time member of O.M.E.G.A., going back to the 2005 Operation Safe Haven (Hurricane Katrina) deployment.  He’s a big cave rescue guy and one of the most skilled climbers I know.  He, no doubt, was the right choice for this role, but having to sit at the command post in the in the Glenwood Caverns visitor center drove him nuts.  Rick is an action guy and driving a desk makes him very uncomfortable.

There was a hint that Rick had something special planned for me.  I figured that he’d make me a team lead for a search or an extraction and send me to some remote pain in the butt area like Jam Crack for a nasty, physically demanding exploration.  Jam Crack is well known caving challenge at Glenwood Caverns.  Those going through it have to decide if they will be facing right or left for the duration of the vertical trip, which has sections where you inhale to wedge yourself in and exhale to squeeze your way further through the passage.

Rick and I often have vigorous debates about various aspects of rescue.  We agree on the needs and the goals, but aren’t always on the same page when it comes to implementation.  The good news is that every time we’ve worked together, we’ve been very good about being on the same page and being consistent about how we do things.  And after we’re done, we’ll sit down and do a blow by blow analysis and focus on completely unrelated successes and failures and why things didn’t work the way we wanted them to.  With that in mind, I fully expected that Rick would throw me a devious challenge, not to be mean, but to say, “let’s see you do this”.

On Sunday morning I stood outside the Glenwood Caverns visitor center and watched the pandemonium unfold.  Rescue gear was trucked up and unloaded in a central staging location.  The incident command post was set up.  Most of the responders came up on the tram, limiting what they could individually bring with them.  We found out that there were four missing cavers.  We knew who we were looking for, but not where.  And at just over three miles in length, Glenwood Caverns is the state’s third longest cave.  We had a lot to get accomplished in limited time.

Rick pulled together a communications team and a hasty team before turning to me.  “How would you like to be the UC?”

That was the absolute last thing that I expected to hear.  In the cave rescue world the UC is an abbreviation for the underground coordinator.  It’s the underground rescue operations branch director, reporting to an operations section chief, who reports to the incident commander.  Sometimes the operations chief position is eliminated all together and the responsibilities of the job are split between the IC and the UC with the IC taking care of all operational needs above ground and the UC taking on the operational elements in the cave.  This was going to be a challenging job.

Hasty-1 was led by Kenny Headrick.  Kenny is a long time caver and an employee at Glenwood Caverns.  I’ve caved with him before and always had full faith in his skills and knowledge.  On the team Kenny had another strong caver, a solid vertical guy and an EMT.  I told him upfront that the hasty search was his show.  He knows the cave and can do things quickly in there.  I was just along for the ride until we established parameters.  My only instructions to him were that we hit the likeliest spots cavers could get into trouble first, then hit the other areas.  This is a standard principle of a hasty search and in a cave like this the likely places to get into trouble were the vertical sections where climbing is required.  Top to bottom Glenwood Caverns has about two hundred feet of vertical relief, so we could potentially be busy for a long time.

Rick was busy putting together a second hasty team to search other areas of the cave.  The communications team was already stringing cable from the command post to the cave entrance.  Hasty-1, with me in tow, headed into the cave.  In my mind I churned old fuzzy memories of my ICS, LUSAR and WAS training for situations such as this.  I did not care about the details.  I did not need to know the cave.  I didn’t even need to know who was on the teams.  I just needed to work with the unit leaders and marshal them to the appropriate tasks.  I had to trust that the people I had reporting to me knew their jobs and would do them well and this is probably the hardest thing for any manager to do.  Many years ago my boss in my real world job had a discussion with me about task delegation.  I dug my heels in on releasing some of the tasks I was responsible for and she reminded me that we were not going to make the deadlines unless I delegated and supervised.  “They won’t do it the way I’ll do it,” I said.  “They won’t,” she agreed.  “No one will ever do it the way you would, but you have to set aside your definition of perfect and accept a job sufficiently well done.  We just need this to work.”  That argument stayed with me for years now.  It’s a valid argument.  I have to trust the people I have working for me.  They know the job and they will do the job.  Maybe that was the lesson that Rick had for me, too.  He knew that underground I would not do things the way he would do them and I knew that the people working for me – and indirectly for Rick – would not do things the way either one of us would do them.  But Rick trusted me to get the job done and I needed to trust others to get the job done as well, just like I trusted Kenny to find the lost cavers.  That thought process made me feel good.  We had this.  The goal was simple.  Find the cavers, get them out.

Traditional SAR methods follow the LAST principles.  Locate, access, stabilize, transport.  Any single one of these could be a bear and we had to start with first thing first.  Kenny dove into the darkness, followed by his team and by me.  Over the last decade I’ve been to Glenwood Caverns three times.  I had a pretty good idea of the cave’s layout in my mind.  There were going to be tough spots and easy spots.  I remembered the first tough spot being a winding sloping off-trail passage called “Easy Out”.  It wasn’t called Easy Out because it was easy.  It was called Easy Out because other paths through the area, like the White Rabbit Hole and the Y2-Krawl, were infinitely nastier.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Easy Out was a good six feet wide and at least ten feet tall.  It turns out that during the winter the owners of the cave made some passage modifications to introduce a complete loop that would allow easier passing for tour groups.  A section of the cave was modified with some old off-trail segments being enlarged to form the large circular loop.  I used to know this cave.  Now I really did have to trust Kenny to make this search perfect.

We checked out a bunch of alcoves and Kenny had a couple of the team members run the Darrow Tunnel to Exclamation Point to make sure no one was there.  Kenny made sure that side passages were managed until sections were explored and declared empty before we moved on, to make sure our subjects did not fall behind us.  We made progress through the cave until arriving at a breakdown section known as the Passport Room.  Here Kenny heard a voice and disappeared into the maze of boulders past the room.  We left a caver in the Passport Room and followed Kenny up.  The breakdown was fairly challenging and I couldn’t help but wonder how we could get an injured person out of this maze of rocks.  After some struggling we got to Caver Pete.  He was sitting in the dark on a sloping rock, his leg stretched out in front of him.  He said he hurt his ankle.  The team EMT immediately got to work.  “Where does it hurt?  How long ago did this happen?  When’s the last time you had something to eat or drink?”  While he was checking out the patient, I spoke with Kenny.  We needed to get an extraction team here.  They would need a vertical team to support them.  Kenny would get the word out and continue his search for the others without the medic.

When I got the opportunity, I interviewed Caver Pete.  He said that he did not know the cave.  He was here with Jon, Mary and Kevin.  Jon got hurt in a fall, so they had Mary stay with him and Pete and Kevin went for help.  They got lost and Pete injured his ankle, leaving Kevin to continue looking for the way out on his own.  He had no idea of what the various areas of the cave were called and the story gave us little information, other than that Jon was injured about fourteen hours earlier and was with Mary and that Pete was hurt about nine hours before we found him.  Kevin was lost out there on his own.

I made sure that medic was set up and checked out a couple of alternative routes through the breakdown before heading out.  Traditionally we tell rescuers that no one is to be left alone.  The medic was okay.  He was there with Caver Pete.  Pete was coherent and functional, just unable to crawl.  The problem was me leaving on my own.  I knew it.  I thought about it.  I made a conscious decision to manage the risk.  The odds of me getting lost were slim.  Kenny made sure the passage was flagged and we had the communications team following us in.  The risk was slipping and becoming injured, not like Pete, but for real.  I knew that I was breaking a rule.  Slow and easy.  Three points of contact.

I made it to the Passport Room, to the main passage and followed the flagging back to the entrance.  The communications team was there, setting up.  They had no idea what happened to Kenny and the rest of the team and they knew nothing about Caver Pete.  They did know that Hasty-2 was in the cave and they went clockwise, opposite the counterclockwise route that Hasty-1 took.  For some reason communications to the command post was gone.  I told the communications unit leader to follow the flagging that Kenny left in place to get to the Passport Room and I would exit the cave and get things organized.  We had a solid start and I knew what resources would be needed for Pete.

A run up the hill got me up to a super busy staging area.  Rick and Dave Schmitz, the logistics section chief, were wrangling the resources.

“We found Pete,” I said.  “We need to talk.”

Rick immediately pulled away form the group to a quiet corner of the staging area and I told him the story.  We would need an extraction team and a vertical team to get the job done.  He immediately pulled me a three member rigging team, which I think he had pre-staged, and started working on the extraction team.  The lead for Vertical-1 was Tom Ice, a Garfield County Search and Rescue guy who I’ve known for a number of years.  Tom is a grizzled veteran of probably every cliff outcropping in the county and has a reputation that precedes him.  I briefed him on the challenge while his team gathered their equipment.  The challenge wasn’t so much a tall cliff, as it was a slippery sloping passage with a lot of rocks and short inconvenient drops that would hinder the transport of a patient.  I knew Tom had this one by the look in his eyes.

Followed by Vertical-1 and Evac-1 I headed back into the cave.  The communications team decided that they will string cable clockwise, following Hasty-2 because the passage on that side was friendlier.  Because the entire area was a loop, they would get to the Passport Room from the other side.  They did hear a rumor that Hasty-2 had found more of the cavers.  I told them to get communications up and running and headed along the original path blazed by Hasty-1 to the Passport Room.  This was a path I knew.

With Vertical-1 and Evac-1 in place, I headed further down the loop to find Hasty-2.  There were communications technicians stringing phone wire here now and I just needed to follow the line to the Register Room, further down the passage.  I came across Evac-2 staging in this area.  There was a claustrophobically small hole in the floor that a phone wire ran down into.  I confirmed that this was the right place and went in, followed by the Evac-2 team leader.  After some scrambling, I came across Caver Mary.  I’ve known her for many years.  The rescuer managing her told me that Jon was in “The Canyon” with a broken leg and that Mary was not cooperating and was somewhat drunk.  While we talked, Mary tried to run off on us.  We intercepted her and I sat down with her.

“Mary, you’re a lush.”  Probably not an opening line I’d use with someone I didn’t know for as many years.  That made her laugh and fall out of character.  “Where’s Kevin, Mary?”

She had no idea.  Leaving Mary in the hands of Hasty-2, I proceeded up to The Canyon, a rather deep rift where Vertical-2 was starting to set up.  Hasty-1 was down in The Canyon, too.  Jon was going to need to be hauled up and handed over to Evac-2 and while they got him through the passage, Vertical-2 would need to restage for another vertical lift.  And we needed to get Caver Mary out.  She was proving to be a lot of trouble.  I had a quick meeting with the leads of Hasty-2, Evac-2 and Vertical-2.  Hasty-1 and Hasty-2 would need to move on to look for Kevin.  Evac-2 would pull a couple of people to take Mary out and bring more supplies in.  And we had communications between the command post, cave entrance, Register Room, Passport Room and an in between area where the communications line split three ways in the cave.

The communications team proved to be fantastic.  They ran all traffic for us and helped get supplies and people in and out.  Each time I passed by a communications station, they would give me messages and patch me through to the right areas.  And the communications unit leader had two extra people, one of which he used to substitute and fill in where needed and one was assigned to me.  That, too, worked fantastically well.  I was never alone, which addressed a safety concern and I had a personal scribe who took notes and relayed messages and got me information on demand.  The only time I got on the phone at that point was when Rick wanted to talk directly with me.

The Evac and Vertical teams were on top of things.  There was some churn in their roles, but they needed very little direct supervision.  My primary concern was finding Kevin.  I had Hasty-1 and Hasty-2 sweep the main drag again and check the alcoves.  They did a detailed sweep of The Canyon and looked in Jam Crack.  Then we sat down to evaluate the options.  There was a mazy area past The Canyon called the Forbidden Zone.  It was a tough place to get to and a tough place to search and it was heading further in, not out.  There was a chance that Kevin was there, but it was very small.  We talked about this as an option earlier and now, having exhausted all our other options, Kenny brought it up again.  “Do it,” I said.

We returned to the Register Room where Caver Jon was being hauled down the slope.  It was a bit of an effort for us to navigate around Evac-2, when suddenly they presented us with Kevin.  They stumbled across him on the edge of The Canyon, in the transition to the Forbidden Zone.  The hasty teams took charge of Kevin to get him out.  I checked on the status of the teams taking Caver Jon out, then went across to the Passport Room and checked on how the teams with Caver Pete were doing.  It was now a competition to see which team would come out first.  I instructed Evac-1 to get Pete out clockwise on the loop and Evac-2 to get Jon out counterclockwise on the loop, opposite in the direction from which both teams came, so that they would not cross paths and interfere with one another.  Getting a packaged injured caver out would be a challenge without bumping into the bottleneck of a second rescue team.

Passport, please.

Extraction of Caver Pete from the breakdown in the Passport Room. Photo by D Bristol.

Caver Pete won the extraction race by about two minutes.  I stayed back with the communications team while they derigged the phone lines and assisted the returning members of Evac-1 and Evac-2 to carryout the personal packs and gear that could not be removed during the extraction.  Flagging and trash were picked up and hauled out.  I verified with entrance control that everyone else had checked out and that I was the last one to leave the cave.  Under ICS, as the incident throttles down and the response structure collapses, the lead for the area is always the last one out.  I then reported to Rick and he checked me out as well.

After the gear was packed away, everyone gathered to talk about what happened.  This was a fairly standard hotwash with teams sharing their own perspectives and discussing where they had succeeded and where they had failed.  Was it perfect?  No.  Nothing is ever perfect.  That’s why we practice – to avoid making mistakes.  Was it good enough?  Absolutely.  We located the missing cavers, managed their injuries and got them out.  From the standpoint of accomplishing the mission, we did exactly what we set out to do.  I said that very thing when it was my turn to talk about the incident.  A number of people told me that I did a great job, but I can’t take the credit for that.  I had some fantastic people supporting me and they made me look good.  They were the ones who did the work.  I read a long time ago that the secret to being a good manager is to find capable people and have them do the job they are best at.  That’s what happened this day.  I had a handful of rock stars assemble the puzzle, communicate with each other and come up with the best possible plan and pull off a very smooth rescue operation under some very difficult conditions.  My job was to make sure that they know the mission and my responsibility was to make sure they had all the tools that they needed to get the job done.

And the training?  As invaluable as ever.  Perhaps some of Saturday had been repetition, but Sunday was pushing new limits.  I’ve been the rescue branch operations director before.  I’ve never done it in a dark 50 degree cave, fully isolated from civilization with a bunch of people who never worked together before.  My own concepts about how a rescue works had to be stretched and I had to adjust my own knowledge and understanding on the fly, trying to stay a step ahead of the incident.

I would strongly recommend this training to anyone who caves on a regular basis and to those involved in the rescue community who have the potential to be involved in cave or confined space rescue.  You can’t beat the experience you walk away with.

Oh, and Rick and I still don’t see eye to eye on the dynamics of these things, but we know that when pressed, we will work with what we have and we will do a pretty good job.  It’s not about a cookie-cutter roadmap.  It’s about being flexible and getting the job done.  We are pretty good at that and in an emergency it’s the only thing that matters.

Building a Better SAR

Instructors:

             Teresa MacPhereson VA TF-1

             Jim Yeager TX TF-1

             Glenn Palmer AZ TF-1

FEMA’s Wide-Area Search course is taught in four modules.  Preparedness, search management and planning, field operations, and then a field exercise.  I took the course at West Metro Fire and Rescue in Lakewood, which is also home to Colorado Task Force One.  Many TF1 guys were among my 35 classmates.

What is a wide area search?  WAS includes these elements: large geographical area affected, an unknown number of victims, overwhelmed local resource capacity and recovery requiring a variety of resources.  Hurricane Katrina and the space shuttle Columbia disaster are some examples of wide-area search response.  In the space shuttle disaster there was a known number of victims, but artifact recovery of unknown scope was also a goal.

In Colorado the local Sheriff is responsible for search and rescue and can call on a nationwide web of state task forces available through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which settles key issues up front: liability and reimbursement.

Like any emergency operations response, preplanning is the starting point.  Identifying resources and capabilities, and developing relationships is key.  Pre-positioning response assets so that they are protected during the event and accessible after an event is important as well.  Familiarity with the National Incident Management System and its typing methodology makes support and logistics easier by standardizing capability ratings.  The list of potential hazards that could be encountered in a wide area search is pretty comprehensive.  You would have to include weather, flooding, sewage, debris, loose animals, downed trees, criminal activity, utilities dangers, hazardous materials, infrastructure collapse, and civil unrest.

With team safety the priority, the team manager needs to keep in mind whether his team has the proper equipment, the proper training and whether the risk justifies the benefit.  This brings three important questions to mind: how can I mess this up?  How can I keep from messing this up?  If I cannot keep from messing this up, who do I call?  Of course we know that the best way to keep from messing this up is to practice, learn lessons, and then prepare again with your learned lessons.  This is what has matured this course, and our instructors all came with a big bag full of personal experience, which made the lectures meaty and practical instead of a dry PowerPoint-and-chalkboard experience.

Day Two had several practical exercises. Jim scattered washers and our squad had to determine critical separation and find them quickly and effectively.  Glenn ran us through a hailing (and listening) exercise.  Teresa had us hunting Post-Its in a duplicated, systematic search.  Much of the learning was on tasking and effectively briefing your squad, which could contain members unfamiliar with your routines.  Terms new to me were PAR (Personnel Accountability Report, done on a frequent basis and reported to IC per briefing instructions) and LCES, a sequential safety process providing Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes and Safety zones.

Decontamination protocol was discussed and it was pointed out that during Katrina decontamination was an everyday need before entering base camp.

The benefit of incorporating local knowledge and sometimes force protection were discussed.  During Katrina, responders were exposed to gang battles as they searched for survivors until force protection was added.

In the afternoon we discussed structure markings, victim markings, and search markings and then played Markings Jeopardy which included the category Potpourri.  Map sketching and an introduction to the United States National Grid (USNG) completed day two.

Wide Area Search - hurricane deployment

Hurricane deployment tabletop. Photo by J W Stephens.

On Thursday we exercised what we learned, first with turning over intelligence between search squads, then with a tabletop based on Hurricane Katrina.  We finished off with a post-test and were released by 13:00.

Wide Area Search - hurricane deployment

Hurricane deployment tabletop. Photo by J W Stephens.

For O.M.E.G.A.’s LUSAR members, Wide Area Search comes into play if they open their door (if they have one left) and see a Wide Area Disaster and they are invited to stay on when the pros arrive.  Through the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer it adds to one’s training but TF1 will get called and if they need qualified volunteers we could be asked to mobilize.  Having WAS-trained members on the O.M.E.G.A. roster positions O.M.E.G.A. to support ESF-9 in the future.  Indirectly though, this training builds better incident managers who are more efficient, more aware of what is possible with scale and builds relationships with the boots currently on the ground.

Colorado Task Force One, sponsored by West Metro Fire Rescue, includes firefighters, paramedics, physicians, structural engineers, hazardous materials technicians, heavy rigging specialists, and canine handlers.  It’s one of FEMA’s 28 Urban Search and Rescue teams.  CO-TF1 can deploy in as little as four hours, sustain its operations for 72 hours without local resources and operate for two weeks in the field.  Rodney Tyus manages the program for WMFR.

MCICS-100: The First Five Minutes

MCICS-100 was held May 24 and 25 at the new St. Anthony Hospital, Pre-hospital Services building, in Lakewood.  Unlike many courses, both days were very busy with instructor presentations and hands-on exercises.  The course was presented by the Operational Consulting Group comprised of Robert Marlin, John Putt, Matt Swindon and Demetri Zannis, all of whom are paramedics.  It was sponsored by COTrain.

This course was extremely valuable in teaching the theoretical and hands-on skills necessary for responding to a mass casualty incident.  What constitutes a mass casualty incident, you ask?  It’s any incident involving more victims than emergency responders can easily manage.  One ‘trigger point’ mentioned was an incident requiring three or more ambulances for transport, though in a rural area even one ambulance may take a long time to arrive.  It’s necessary to honestly assess the available resource during an incident and it’s generally wise to opt for the mass casualty ICS structure rather than assuming that resources will be freely available.

One concept that is gradually filtering through the law enforcement, firefighter and EMS communities is that the real ‘first responders’ are often the lay people in the immediate area of the incident.  While the Medical Response Corps was present near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, many ‘ordinary’ folks were the ones applying tourniquets to the limbs of victims, saving their lives.  For this reason, this type of training is invaluable not only for the ‘professionals’, but almost anyone who has the interest, desire and time to invest in the course.

MCICS-100

Mass Casualty Incident Command System 10-4 exercise. Photo by J Scott.

The classroom portion of the course was both theory and examples of past mass casualty events with an analysis of what went right and what went wrong.  Saturday’s 10-4 exercise involved moving four patients onto backboards and moving them from one area to another.  My team consisted of five women and we worked exceptionally well with one another.  We took advantage of being the last team to perform the 10-4 exercise and so earned the very best time of three minutes flat.  We were thereafter dubbed the “Broad-Squad”.

The final exercise on Sunday was extremely demanding and difficult.  We each had to take on an MCICS role and I was elected to Transportation Chief.  All I can say is that communicating with a dispatcher via radio with chaos all around me was very challenging.  I was very fortunate that my partner/scribe and I had worked together on Saturday, so we communicated very well, which made the patient flow smoother.  Still, there were times that I had to close my eyes to concentrate exclusively on the radio transmissions in order to keep focused.  In the early stages of the final exercise, Robert had to yell at me several times to keep me from surging forward too quickly or getting distracted by a minor detail.  He also had to coach me on the proper radio ‘lingo’ for dispatch.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of this course.  MCICS-100 is also a prerequisite for other MCICS courses, such as MCICS-400, Hospital Evacuation and Surge Capacity (Operational Track) and MCICS-200 Active Shooter.  Learning from the gentlemen of the Operational Consulting Group was a very rewarding experience and helped me to develop that ‘muscle memory’ that we often talk about.

ICS-300: Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents

Incident Command System

Incident Command System – stock photo

I think we all know how dry Incident Command System courses can be, yet we complete them because they are important and necessary.  When I enrolled in ICS-300 through the Colorado Department of Public Safety, I expected more of the same.  However, instructor Jim Krugman led our class through interesting discussions and exercises and provided an enriching experience.  Mr. Krugman is the Training and Exercise Coordinator for the Denver Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.  He previously spent 36 years with the USDA Forest Service, largely with Fire Operations.  This course was conducted over two days, May 11 and 12, at Front Range Airport.

Attendees were assigned to one of five teams, each with a similar mix of genders, agencies and backgrounds.  This proved invaluable when working through the tabletop exercises as each team member brought a different perspective and set of priorities to the exercise.  I was assigned to team five and when we began the first tabletop exercise, one gentleman was very insistent that the railroad be given a spot in the incident command structure.  This caused Mr. Krugman some frustration and none of us knew until the second day (when introductions were done) that my fellow team member was an employee of one of the railroads.  The resulting discussion was lively and extremely informative, however.   We learned that railroads take their right-of-ways very seriously and, strictly speaking, consider themselves the only valid authority for any event that occurs in their jurisdiction.  The takeaway from this discussion is that any incident that involves or is in proximity to a railway will need to consider the railroad authority in some capacity.  For example, Incident Command would need the cooperation of the railroad to move railcars out of danger during a fire.

Saturday, we reviewed ICS fundamentals, Unified Command and Assessment of an incident or event and establishing objectives.  The lectures were broken up with group exercises and presentation of each team’s assessment or approach to the incident.  While some of the assessments were quite similar there were others that were creative and unique.  Generally speaking, every team provided valuable insight into some of the challenges and weaknesses in others.  By the end of the course on Sunday, it was clear that many of the teams incorporated some ideas presented by other teams.  This type of learning experience is extremely valuable because it reminds all of us that none of us has all the answers.  It is through collaboration and careful listening that the best solutions of all are found.

I also highly recommend Jim Krugman as an instructor.  His approach to ICS course material keeps it fresh and interesting for his students.  His many years of experience in the field also enable him to provide practical examples throughout the course.