Around 20 Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers clad in bright yellow vests and green hardhats converged on Kenmore Junior High on the evening of June 7 to get hands-on experience setting up an emergency water purification system.
The exercise was one of thousands of operations going on around the Northwest as part of the massive emergency preparedness drill called Cascadia Rising, encompassing more than 20,000 personnel state-wide and more in Oregon, California and British Columbia.
As Northshore Emergency Management Coalition leader Carl Lunak demonstrated how to attach the 20-foot long, 22 spigot water purification device to a fire hydrant by a hose, the volunteers looked on and later tried their own hands at it.
In a real emergency, certified volunteers who prepare with their neighbors will be an asset not just to themselves but to their community, CERT volunteer Laurell Sprague said.
“That is one less neighborhood that firefighters and police have to take care of,” she said.
Sprague has been volunteering with CERT and other emergency response groups since 2004. She said she comes from a family of emergency responders and wanted to get involved.
Kaare Otnes is a newer addition to the team, joining around a year ago, he said. This exercise was his first hands-on training, though he had been attending the monthly meetings.
“I wanted to do something community related,” he said. “It’s all useful knowledge.”
There were two general emergency response groups at the Kenmore exercise, one was CERT and the other was RACES, or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services.
RACES are short-wave HAM radio operators who practice facilitating communication between responders, government agencies and the community if traditional communications are knocked out during an emergency.
Throughout the exercise, a handful of radios would crackle and the the jacket-clad operators would respond with updates on the situation.
Robert Grinnell has been volunteering with organizations in the Northshore area for more than a decade after watching how HAM operators helped emergency responders in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. He was licensed in 2003 as an operator.
“That kind of lit the spark,” he said.
While CERT team members practice on physical equipment, Grinnell’s is all information. If an emergency occurs, he and his RACES team members can make contact with other operators as far away as Minnesota.
All the volunteers emphasized how volunteering would help the community if, and when, a major earthquake or other natural disaster hits Washington State.
As was widely reported, and taken seriously by emergency response authorities, the state sits close to the Cascadia subduction zone, which lies off the coast of Washington, Oregon and California.
It is predicted that when it rips, it could produce a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami up to 30 feet tall which will smash into coastal regions.
In the Northshore area the Reporter found in earlier coverage that liquefaction, where soil rapidly loosens due to shaking, is possible, as well as buildings and bridges likely collapsing.
Power loss, water contamination and large waves on Lake Washington are other dangers.
In all these cases, emergency response authorities emphasized the importance of a community who already has a plan in place, and as the exercises continue through the week, that is exactly what local volunteers and emergency responders hope to practice.