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Successful joint training exercise!

posted Nov 16, 2016, 1:27 PM by Lyons Prepared   [ updated Nov 16, 2016, 4:37 PM ]
On Saturday morning, we ran a joint test scenario between Lyons Prepared and the Lyons Fire Protection District. Participants included about a dozen Lyons Prepared volunteers at three locations (Lyons Park Estates, Town North, and Spring Gulch), ten firefighters, including Chief Hoffman and Emily Gubler, and several volunteer "actors."

What you need to know

Before I begin describing the actual test, I want to share two things we learned that are areas for improvement for our neighborhoods. This is something that neighborhood volunteers can help solve as a points of contact on your street.
  1. Most importantly, it would be good to know, as well as we can, who our most vulnerable neighbors are. That way, in a real emergency, we'll know who to check in with to see how they are faring. Or, if we can't check in on them ourselves, we can relay a request to emergency services to ask them to arrange for someone to check in on our vulnerable neighbors.
  2. It also would be good to know who in our neighborhood has a generator. So the next time you have a chance to chat with your immediate neighbors, please ask them about that. It will be great if we can create a list on a street-by-street basis of who has generators. 
The scenario we tested

A major snowstorm has hit Lyons. There is five feet of snow on the ground, trees and power lines are down, power is out, there are no plowed roads locally, a lot more snow is in the forecast for the next three days, and all normal channels of communication are disrupted.

Our volunteer "actors" actually dressed up in blizzard clothing and dropped in unexpected at the three locations to report incidents ranging from a person who was running out of oxygen to a power pole transformer fire, an overturned truck, a senior citizen who slipped on the ice and severely broke his leg, a fire alarm going off in a home, a roof collapse, a person lost in the blizzard, and so on.

The test scenario was organized and fully scripted by Emily Gubler, a volunteer firefighter and the co-chair of our Lyons Prepared Steering Committee, and Chief Hoffman. The rest of us had no idea what to expect other than some kind of test.

In addition, Joycelyn Fankhouser, who is our new co-chair of the Lyons Prepared Steering Committee (and who works as the flood recovery coordinator for the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services), was also an actor, playing the role of the fire district's liaison at the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management.

The Lyons Prepared response

Those of us in Lyons Prepared spent our time communicating with dispatch over our MURS radios, updating them on the status of our neighborhoods and our needs, and reporting the incidents that the actors who visited us told us about. We reported to the best of our ability how many generators we have in our neighborhood, what our fuel, water, and food situation needs would be for the next three days, and who our vulnerable neighbors are who might need assistance.

The Lyons Prepared volunteers at the three locations in the Lyons Park Estates, Spring Gulch, and Town North neighborhoods were joined by volunteers from the Stone Canyon, Dakota Ridge, Town South, Town West, Apple Valley, Longmont Dam, and X-Bar 7 neighborhoods.

The outcome

The actual test lasted about 90 minutes and helped us to identify both our strengths and weaknesses. As you can imagine, things got very chaotic with lots of incidents being reported from three different neighborhoods at a very rapid pace.

Our fire protection district team was amazing! They quickly split up into teams, including two people who formed an incident communications center, an incident commander and assistant who were coordinating the response, and a field commander and team who were prioritizing the response. No matter how chaotic things got, they maintained--at least to those of us in the neighborhoods--a calm and professional demeanor, dealing with each of our crises efficiently and effectively.

A couple of us who are amateur radio operators also conducted a side test at the same time, reaching out by ham radio to Boulder County Amateur Radio Emergency Services (BCARES). During real emergencies, the BCARES team has a station in the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where they assist with communications. We were able to successfully connect with George Weber, the president of BCARES, which means that if it had been a real emergency, we would've been able to ask BCARES to relay our emergency requests to the EOC, where the Office of Emergency Management would be operating.

The debriefing

Afterwards, we all had a two-hour debriefing at Fire Station #1, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch from Smokin' Daves while we each shared what went well and what needed improvement.

We did run into some communications challenges, especially with the Spring Gulch neighborhood, where the Lyons Prepared volunteers had to go outside in order to communicate with a fire district volunteer who had driven her vehicle from Fire Station #2 to a different location in order to be able use her in-vehicle radio to relay messages back and forth between Spring Gulch and the incident communications center at Fire Station #1. In real life, it would not have been easy to stand outside in a major blizzard operating a radio, and it would've been challenging for the fire district volunteer to drive through five feet of snow to try to find a better radio relay position.

One thing that went really well is that I have an external antenna that I can quickly put up and connect to my MURS handheld radio, and that improved transmission and reception so much that we're going to explore how we can get more external antennas distributed to Lyons Prepared volunteers who have MURS radios. That might also help solve the Spring Gulch communication challenge.

We also learned a lot of smaller but important things, such as how to most effectively share information with the dispatchers. For example, it's really important to speak slowly when sharing addresses.

And we learned about triaging, which helps those of us in the neighborhoods to better understand how the firefighters prioritize their response. For example, we might think that a transformer on fire across the street from us is a really big deal, but when there's five feet of snow and a low likelihood that the fire will spread, that's certainly not as important as someone whose life is in danger, for example, a senior citizen who has a severely broken leg or another person who is running out of oxygen. Great lesson! As the Brits say: Keep Calm and Carry On!

Kudos to the Lyons Fire Protection District personnel!

I am so grateful to all of the people in the Lyons Fire Protection District who do so much work and training to keep us all safer.  And I find it such a relief to know that if we ever get hit with another event like the flood, we'll have a much better communication strategy in place. 

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