The city of Carlsbad allowed The Coast News special access throughout the eight weeks of training for an inside look at the program. This is the first of three stories in the series.
CARLSBAD — A packed classroom at the Safety Training Center was all ears as the city’s annual Certified Emergency Response Team program kicked off Monday.
A variety of residents in age and professional backgrounds are taking part in CERT’s 10th program and over eight weeks to become trained in numerous skills to assist city personnel should disaster strike.
David Harrison, Carlsbad’s emergency preparedness manager, put the class through a nearly two-hour slideshow of how the city operates its logistics plus a brief history of how the program came into being.
Fire Chief Mike Davis and Division Chief Mike Calderwood gave brief speeches about the importance and effectiveness of the volunteers.
Davis noted how critical the CERT was during the 2014 Poinsettia Fire, a fact echoed by Harrison several times throughout the training.
“The Poinsettia Fire wouldn’t have gone the way it did without CERT,” Davis said. “After the first 24 hours, it all could have unraveled.”
Davis said the volunteers where critical in assisting with the emergency operations center (EOC), feeding first responders, communication and other logistics.
The chief, though, heaped heavy praise on Harrison calling him the best emergency preparedness manager in the state, “if not the country.”
The class, meanwhile, ranges from retirees to retired military personnel, nurses, amateur radio operators, also known as ham operators, and even a blacksmith.
After introductions, Harrison dove into the specifics of Carlsbad’s program and the first unit, which what emergency management.
The retired Navy officer created the program based off his experience in the military creating similar programs. He developed material to combat terrorist and other threats to military personnel, equipment and bases.
Harrison’s layered approach, he said, came from how the Navy protects an aircraft carrier out at sea. The carrier is the center with ships, submarines and aircraft further out circling and protecting the high-value target.
In the case of emergency preparedness, Harrison uses the city as the aircraft carrier as the target with support from city staff preparedness, community preparedness, mutual aid and state and federal support.
“CERT is indispensible in the situational understanding of a city,” Harrison said.
As for mutual aid, the city does not allow its CERT members to be called into duty as part of the county plan. Harrison said too many safety gaps made it an easy call to not sign on as a partner.
He noted the county plan has no provisions for communication, protective equipment, tracking, transportation and identifying those individuals who have safely left a scene as primary factors for the city’s absence.
However, the county is working on closing the gaps and in the future Carlsbad may agree to the revised plan.
The city does, Harrison explained, volunteer its CERT members to neighboring cities on a case-by-case basis.
“It was significant enough not to sign on,” Harrison told the class.
In addition to CERT, he said the Ready Carlsbad Business Alliance, which is associated with the Chamber of Commerce, also acts as collector for funds, clothing and food for victims of disasters. Harrison said the alliance, which was started by three CERT members, donated about $25,000 to victims of the Poinsettia Fire.
Although the first class was lecture, Harrison reassured the volunteers much of the remaining seven weeks will be hands-on learning from fire suppression and prevention, disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, disaster psychology and terrorism.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.