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Preparing for the worst

Volunteer emergency response team holds disaster drill

December 8, 2012
By PETER KASPARI, , Messenger News

HUMBOLDT - To passersby in downtown Humboldt on Saturday, the scene at 615 Sumner Ave. may have seemed like a disaster.

Women screamed for their children as members of the Humboldt County Community Emergency Response Team kept them away, trying to rescue everybody inside of a building where a gas explosion had just happened.

In reality, the disaster was just a simulation.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Karla Skaggs, of Fort Dodge, tries to get past Community Emergency Response Team member Jeff Habben, of Livermore, during a disaster drill Saturday evening in downtown Humboldt. Skaggs was portraying a mother trying to get to her child inside a building that had just undergone a gas explosion. At left, CERT Public Information Officer Sandi Lee keeps an eye on them.

While the CERT members were real, the screaming spectators and the victims being carried out of the building were actors.

Pat Colwell, Humboldt County emergency management coordinator, said this was the final exam for 17 CERT members who had just completed a week's worth of classes.

"Now we'll test them and see how they do," he said. "They've worked very hard, and I'm sure they'll all do well."

Throughout the hourlong exercise, CERT Public Information Officer Sandi Lee provided updates to those who were watching, as well as holding back grief-stricken loved ones who were worried about what was happening inside the building.

"Trying to force your way in is taking away from our jobs," Lee told three women who tried getting through the police tape.

Melissa Ledley, of Fort Dodge, was one of the actors who was participating in the drill. Two of her children also participated as victims.

"It's been a good simulation," she said. "It was really life-like, especially when we tried to get inside the building and they held us back."

Ledley said even though she knew it was just a drill, the way it was done made it seem real.

"They do really well, especially security," she said.

Judy Konecne, of Humboldt, was another actor playing a distressed mother.

Although she was an actor, Konecne said she didn't consider what she was doing to be an act.

"I don't have to act hysterical, I'm a mom," she said. "If my kids were really in there, it wouldn't take too long for me to get upset."

As CERT members began carrying victims out, Ledley and the others began yelling at the volunteers for answers.

"She'll be fine," one rescuer shouted.

"You've been saying that for two hours!" Ledley yelled, even though the simulated explosion had only happened 20 minutes earlier.

Shortly afterward, Lee provided an update for everyone.

"There are 11 persons with various degrees of injury," she said. "All victims are out and all are being transported to hospitals. We have not been told of any serious injuries."

CERT Training Coordinator Ron Vought, who organized the drill, said he was impressed by how the participants responded.

"The exercise has gone exceptionally well, especially for the first-timers," he said.

Vought said the exercised proved the new graduates are ready.

"I think they'll be able to handle a situation like this quite well," he said. "They'll just need to keep training to make sure they still have the skills they need."



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