At 10:15 a.m. on Saturday morning, an earthquake will rumble across the Coastside, knocking out cellphone and internet communication for the next hour. At least, that’s what will happen if you’re participating in the Coaststide Community Emergency Response Team’s Great Coastside Shakeout drill.
The volunteer organization’s goal is for individuals to practice the communication ladder between neighborhoods, local CERT volunteers and Coastside Emergency First Responders. It’s also a method for emergency planners to get a head count of those interested in emergency preparedness across the area.
CERT breaks up each town on the Coastside, from Montara to Pescadero, into various sections with different “leads” in charge of coordinating their neighborhood. Each neighborhood commander will determine which messages should be relayed via the ham radio operator stationed at the Neighborhood Command Post to the ham operator at Coastside Fire Protection District headquarters.
After a brief intro via webinar from CFPD Battalion Chief Dave Cosgrave, participants will use walkie-talkies to communicate with neighbors and neighborhood leads. To sign up for the drill and learn more about CERT, visit coastsidecert.com.
The drill has a few practical applications that go beyond reminding participants to pack go-bags and have emergency supplies ready. First, it gets people familiar with the technical aspects of walkie-talkies and ham radios. Because powerlines and cellphone towers may be knocked down during an earthquake, participants are expected to use these devices to communicate and coordinate with neighbors. CERT recommends using
the Midland GXT1000 FRS Radio. A set of two can be purchased from Amazon.com for $70. Cosgrave said the primary audience for this drill is CERT members who want to become neighborhood leads.
But CERT’s mission also involves creating a database of individuals who can assist their neighborhoods in an emergency. This could range from knowing who has medical experience near you or who has the tools necessary to clear fallen trees from the roads.
“If it was a real emergency, you don’t know who is home,” Cosgrave said. “If you have one neighborhood lead who’s on vacation when the emergency happens, that just shows you need to have more than one person to rely on.”
Both Cosgrave and Michele Moon, CERT’s neighborhood lead for downtown Half Moon Bay, said they’ve seen an increase in emergency preparedness after the CZU Lighting Complex fires forced evacuations in the South Coast communities.
“It’s creating a roster of everybody and knowing what skills they have,” Moon said of the drill.
After a simulated earthquake, CERT volunteers will take to the street for a simulated damage assessment. Because this is practice, the volunteers will instead count those who watched the webinar by looking for a piece of blue paper posted in front of participating residences. The paper notes how many people participated in each household and will be placed on a mailbox or trash bin. Volunteers will count the numbers and report to headquarters.
“It will make neighbors more aware that there is this volunteer organization,” Cosgrave said of CERT’s goals for this exercise. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor get through a large crisis.”