Emergency Neighborhood Drill


The photo shows something we almost certainly WON’T see in a real emergency: the Berkeley Fire Department.

Saturday (4/27) was the Citywide Emergency Drill, and I joined other neighbors from this block and the next in a dry run of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) procedures.  The neighbors a block away, who had been organizing for several years, got a command post set up in a driveway within minutes of the 9:00 a.m. pretend earthquake.  They had a table, a big chart with all the addresses on the street, and walkie-talkies.

I joined an Assessment Team.  Our job was to go from house to house and take stock of the situation.  Some houses had put out white towels to indicate all was OK.  Outside others we found envelopes — part of the drill — describing damage and injuries at the location.

At each house, the Assessment team leader radioed the status to the command post, and the dispatcher there organized other volunteers into search and rescue, fire suppression, and medical teams.

It all ran pretty smoothly, with a moderate but not excessive amount of confusion.  Within an hour we were done.  Sixteen of us gathered at the command post to do an evaluation and debriefing.

When that was done, the Berkeley Fire Department showed up — total surprise — and checked in with the command post to get its pretend damage assessment.

In a real emergency, the chances of seeing the Fire Department on the day of the emergency are slim to zero.  The Department has 34 employees, not all of whom live in the city.  One major fire ties up the entire department for the day.  The expectation is that neighborhoods will be on their own for five days, and it could be more.  That’s the forecast behind the formation of CERT: to empower neighbors to respond to the emergency in an organized and effective way until professional help can arrive.

The drill was worthwhile.  You develop a kind of double vision.  You see the solid, comfortable world as it is right now, but you also develop images of the houses off their foundations and the people trapped, screaming.  You build bonds with people that will help you meet that possible scenario with more confidence.