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9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

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Reliable Communications Help CERT teams Aid in Community Disaster Response

Date: 2013-08-23
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Natural disasters hit unsuspecting areas every day and can often lead to panic and disarray. Depending on the severity of the disaster, communications shut down which only worsen the situation. It is during times like these that Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) are deployed to assist fire and police relief efforts.  

The CERT in Monterey (CA) is touted as one the best in the nation, which has led to many other cities replicating the city’s program. With more than 50 handheld multi-channel radios and 11 fixed base radios deployed in 11 neighborhoods, CERT volunteers are able to respond quickly and reliably to any natural disaster.

“Communication is key to any organization,” described retired California Highway Patrol Officer and CERT Team Member Tim McFaddan. “We looked at Hurricane Katrina and Sandy; both areas lost cell phones and Internet for up to a month--if we want to do the most good for the most people, then we need to have something more reliable than cell phones.”

Unlike other CERT programs that depend on cell phones as the main source of communication, Monterey CERT utilizes Powerwerx radios with Pryme’s heavy-duty speaker microphones on three licensed FCC frequencies, which allows them to deploy their 308 volunteers at any given moment under the most rugged conditions.

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Monterey’s diverse topography makes it vulnerable to a myriad of natural disasters. With such a varied geographic location, Monterey volunteers must complete a thorough, nationwide training program, which covers a wide range of material, from traffic control to light search-and-rescue. Monterey volunteers also receive triage training and practice taking patients to the hospital through different back roads in an effort to save as many victims in a safe, timely manner. The training prepares the volunteers for possible emergencies that might last anywhere from just a few hours to as long as seven days. 

“One of the issues with volunteer organizations is finding reliable equipment at an efficient cost” McFaddan explained.  “I dropped the WXRSM from six feet numerous times and it worked. I threw it out of my car while driving and it worked. I even put it in the dishwasher, but please don’t try this at home. It exceeded military standards at a fraction of the cost.”

The method of radio and equipment storage is another unique aspect of the Monterey CERT program. Previously stored at the team captain’s houses, Monterey CERT decided to evenly distribute their supplies throughout the city’s 11 neighborhoods in an effort to make supplies easily accessed and readily available to all CERT members, McFaddan described, “Putting all our resources in one place is just the beginning of a failure.”

The supplies - which include Powerwerx radios, hiking antennas, and Pryme microphones and headsets - are kept in rugged, all-weather Conex containers that can survive most natural disasters. The radios are charged with Solar Power at each container site. In the future, the pioneering efforts of the Monterey team look to employ faraday cages to protect their tools from electromagnetic pulses (EMP’s). The utilization of reliable, affordable communication equipment has allowed Monterey CERT to serve and protect lives and property - doing the most good for the most people.

There are also 21 licensed Ham Radio operators including McFaddan (K60FM) in Monterey CERT to help supplement communications. They utilize a variety of Pryme communication products to maintain their emergency communication readiness.

- Corporate News/9-1-1magazine.com (via Pryme, 8/5/13)

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