Cambrians in their own neighborhoods may have, on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 22, seen someone getting out of a car and making a call on something that looked like a walkie-talkie.
Jerry Wood, assistant coordinator of Cambria’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), was testing emergency communications with two local control centers, one at the Cambria Fire Department station on Burton Drive and another at Burton Drive and Ellis Avenue.
It was part of a countywide test of emergency communications involving CERT teams in six communities and ham radio operators working out of the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and other locations.
CERT members involved were in Cambria, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos.
The hourlong test, requested and set up by Sheriff Ian Parkinson, began about 2:30 p.m.
According to sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla, “This system will be used during disasters like an earthquake or tsunami and allow the different CERT teams to be dispatched to the area of greatest need for their services (for instance to coordinate volunteers who want to help out after the disaster).”
For instance, in Cambria, communications were centered at the Cambria Fire Department, where CERT coordinator Craig Ufferheide was set up with members Jim Cissna and Dave Wierenga.
Cissna operated a ham radio station, while Ufferheide and Wierenga communicated with one of the portable radios provided by the Sheriff’s Office.
Ufferheide said the radios “operate on dedicated CERT frequencies that do not require a ham license but have additional power levels to reach throughout the rolling hills of Cambria.”
During the test, Norm and Shirley Smyth manned a portable ham radio base station at the Burton Drive site. He said, “the portable station can be used if the equipment at the fire department fails, or for a localized incident to facilitate CERT communications,” such as when the teams are searching for a missing person.
“The portable station was able to communicate directly with the county EOC and all the CERT potential staging areas in Cambria,” Smyth said.
However, as Shirley Smyth noted with a smile, “We’re doing this test on such a beautiful day. We all know communications may be different” in a rainstorm, especially when the wind is howling.
CERT volunteers are trained to form into effective neighborhood teams to assist others in doing such things as how and when to turn off the utilities. CERT teaches some firefighting and medical skills, awareness of hazardous materials, terrorism training, light search and rescue techniques and profound self-reliance.
CERT members also are skilled at working side-by-side with untrained volunteers, those who often turn out following a disaster because they want so much to help but don’t have the training to know where to go or what to do when they get there.