Monday, April 20, 2009

Homeland Security Severe Storm Response

Whew, what a weekend.

Saturday was very busy.... I had to be over at Blue River Community College by 7:00 am for the 2009 Homeland Security Severe Storm Response exercise. 7:00 am??!! Who the heck has to be anywhere at that ungodly hour? I usually don't even wake up until 7:30 am or so on a good morning....!

So, anyway - I drag myself out of bed and hit the road by 6:30 am to be in place. This exercise was a way to test real volunteers to see how they would respond in a "disaster".

There were hundreds of volunteers there - CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams), DART (Disaster Animal Response Team), Explorers, Red Cross, as well as FEMA and Homeland Security. By 9:00 am, we had been bagged and tagged with our official I.D.'s, given our briefings, had some donuts and coffee, and the exercise began.

In our briefing, we were told that a severe storm had hit the metropolitan area the night before. We had victims missing, we had victims who needed shelter, we had victims who needed assistance with debris removal....(remember, this was an exercise - not real).

Various "games" would now commence. One game involved getting some Police Explorer cadets made up with "injuries" and then having them go hide out in the woods - and then volunteers brought in numerous search and rescue dogs to find the "victims." The makeup on these kids was pretty good - some of them looked downright gruesome.

Another game had chainsaw gangs and debris removal teams go into the woods near Blue River and practice their skills.

The game that I was involved with was setting up a shelter after a severe storm. There were about 25 CERT volunteers who had been recently trained in setting up and running an American Red Cross shelter. My role in the game was "Controller". I got to control the game - watch how they were doing - and then throw various tricks and turns at them to see how they would respond. I had a couple of Explorers as my 'actors' and we would sit and conspire with different scenarios...for example, I had two girls break out into a fight - and then I would watch how the CERT volunteers responded. I had one Explorer pretend to be smoking; one pretended to try and smuggle a cat into the shelter; one pretended to be smelly and dirty and unkept. The volunteers did pretty good - they responded well, for the most part. We did catch them on one trick, though. We sent in a blond, male volunteer with a dark-haird women's photo identification badge on - no one caught that this guy had on obviously fake I.D. - until I called some of the volunteers and pointed at the guy and said, "What is wrong with this picture?"

I grabbed another Explorer in the hallway and sent him into the shelter as the "Health Inspector", there to do a surprise inspection. I sent another one in as a "reporter" from Good Morning, America - wanting to do a warm & fuzzy story on the shelter.

A group of CERT volunteers

We had a break for lunch, and then we regrouped to do a round-table discussion with our volunteers and actors on how they think the exercise went, as well as how well they responded to the different things being thrown at them. All of the 'tricks' I threw at them have actually happened at one time or another in a shelter - so it was a very good learning experience for them.

I left that afternoon, tired, exhausted, but feeling pretty good. It was actually fun to be a little devious and come up with ways of 'tricking' the volunteers. I know the Explorer teenagers had a good time; they were pretty imaginative in coming up with several of the scenarios themselves!

All-in-all, a good day. And it was indoors, at least, out of the rain. I felt pretty bad for the Explorers who had to go lay down in a wet field in the rain and wait for a wet Search & Rescue dog to come find them. I don't think that sounded like fun in the rain. But who knows - they probably loved it. I know the dogs that were there Saturday were pretty special.

Be sure to do YOUR part today to save the world...get involved in a volunteer organization, such as CERT, or Red Cross, and make a difference somewhere. As Saturday's "game" shows - being a volunteer can be really fun sometimes. You just never know what is coming at you.


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