As first responders and government agencies prepare for what they hope will never happen — a catastrophic wildfire in or near Cambria’s Monterey pine forest and urban areas — one volunteer group has for years been quietly getting ready for that and other emergencies.
When group members arrive in a neighborhood, they don’t do so in big trucks with loud sirens or banks of flashing lights, although residents might hear an occasional whistle or knock on the door, as coordinator Craig Ufferheide explained in a recent email.
The members of the Community Emergency Response Team are Cambria’s quiet responders.
The team includes 150 people trained in emergency first aid, fire suppression, light search-and-rescue, disaster psychology and general disaster preparedness.
Combined with their supplies and equipment needed to respond to most emergencies, “you have a community capability that can make a big difference on that bad day in Cambria,” Ufferheide said.
Law enforcers and officials have defined Cambria’s CERT program as being a model for other groups like it.
For more than a dozen years (with support from the Cambria Community Services District, Cambria Fire, Cal Fire and the county Sheriff’s Office), these Cambria residents who want to make a difference have been preparing to help the community when it will most need their assistance.
There are “eight designated staging areas within the community where the CERT members can respond to when that emergency occurs,” Ufferheide said. Each of those areas is “supported by a staging-area manager trained to organize the team members and begin immediate response operations.”
Even when traditional communication channels are down, CERT is ready.
“The SAMs and team members are equipped with a variety of startup equipment and emergency radios,” he said. “The CERT radio capabilities provide access to virtually every area in Cambria, and they do not depend on commercial power, telephones, cell towers or Internet services.”
Ufferheide explained that “CERT has nearly a hundred short- and medium-range radios as well as 17 licensed HAM radio operators that can connect with their teams, the first responders at the fire stations and other emergency centers throughout the county.
“Additional support is provided to the CERT teams through three deployable trailers that are fully equipped with medical supplies, communications equipment, generators, electrical supplies, safety equipment and rescue tools.”
But, as he said, “The best thing is you know these people. They live right here and will be here when that disaster happens. Even if Cambria is cut off for a period of time, they can respond to do the most good for the most people in need. They are always honing their skills and training right here in your neighborhoods.
“So,” Ufferheide concluded, “when you see someone with that bright yellow vest and helmet with ‘CERT’ on their back, tell them thanks and follow their lead. They won’t have a big truck, sirens or banks of flashing lights, but they are your Quiet Responders.”