Disaster drill tests community responders

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In spite of a snowstorm, volunteers with the CommunityEmergency Response Team went looking for tornado victims.

Although the tornado didn’t really happen, the snowstorm did, and more than 80 local volunteers took part in a countywide mock disaster drill on March 23 in Littleton.

“This is our sixth year of conducting the exercise,” said CERT Coordinator Mickey Kempf, “but the snowstorm this year is a relatively new concept.”

The CERT program educates people about disaster preparedness, particularly for hazards that may impact their area, said Scott Sickafoose,spokesman for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

Volunteers train in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

“The key concept is for CERT members to be able to help others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional first responders may not be immediately available,” he said. “Volunteers also learn ways they can keep themselves alive until help can arrive.”

The day-long exercise, held at the Metro Fire Training Center in Littleton, was modified from its original outdoor agenda and moved inside to accommodate volunteer victims, mostly Centennial Boy Scouts from Troop 456.

“It was fun, but got pretty boring at times,” said 12-year-old Campbell Zantop-Zimlinghaus, a first-time role-player who braved the cold weather for the outdoor search and rescue task. “I was just waiting and waiting.”

Campbell’s twin brother Peyton said the experience provided insight into how he might respond as a victim of disaster.

“I think if I really was a victim, I think I would try to do more to be rescued,” he said. “I don’t think I’d just sit around and wait for people to find me.”

Tabletop exercises forced participants to think through a variety of disaster scenarios, including earthquakes.

“For every hour spent in an exercise, there are about 10 hours spent in training,” said Max Khaytsus, president of OMEGA Responders, a nonprofit search and rescue organization trained to support emergency responders. “Exercises and regular training are important to prevent skill atrophy.”

CERT programs, according to Kempf, are funded by both state and federal resources, but also through support and donations from local businesses.

For more information about CERT or CERT training, visit www.littletongov.org and type “CERT” into the search block.