“These reports are made directly from the CERT zones to the city emergency operations center,” said Demetrius A. Kastros, a retired member of the California Fire Service and the lead instructor of Monterey CERT. “Since CERT teams live in the neighborhoods, we are ideally suited to this reporting role.”

In addition to allowing for storage and recharging of the radios, the storage containers also serve as the neighborhood staging area for team members during an emergency. Neighborhood captains are responsible for communications with their local team members. Individual team members communicate with their captain at the designated container, and the captain communicates with the EOC CERT member, reducing radio calls only to essential emergency traffic.

But the radio system allows for more than damage assessment reports, Kastros said. “It enables the EOC to remain in direct contact with the various neighborhoods across town, getting constant updates on conditions,” he said. “The radios also allow efficient tracking of CERT members operating in an area, and they enable teams in the field to instantly request professional assistance, such as from the local fire department, for a situation beyond the role of the CERT.”

Monterey also uses a commercially available service that allows hundreds of personnel to be contacted at the same time. E-Sponder is an Internet-based system that allows anyone with access codes to send a message from an Internet-capable computer. “The sender accesses the service, types a message on the screen similar to an email, and then sends that message to a predesignated group stored in the system,” Kastros said.

The typed message is instantly voice digitized and received by the designated person in the form of a recorded voice message. The messages can be sent to land lines or cellphones, and the recipients simultaneously receive the same message in text and email format.

The system allows for storing of multiple sub-groups such as EOC personnel, fire department representatives and CERT members. The sender can transmit an all-call message or select one or more sub-groups for notification.

A Team Approach

Monterey CERT members were activated during the March 2011 tsunami alert following the Japan earthquake. In this instance, after activating the EOC, city officials decided it would be prudent to post personnel in safe areas to warn citizens to remain clear of the beaches.

Today, the Monterey CERT is touted as one the best in the nation, which has led to many other cities replicating its program. Still, Monterey CERT continues to look for ways to improve the system. A monthly “On the Air” radio network started in February allows CERT members to practice their radio skills in a live situation, permitting them to hone their skills, gain confidence and test the operation and function of the radio equipment. Fifty-seven CERT members took part in the training in just the first three months it was available.

With fire contracts including the cities of Pacific Grove and Carmel, Monterey CERT has also recently begun working on a more regional level.

“Mother Nature and man-made disasters do not recognize political boundaries,” McFaddan said. “We are testing our operational radio abilities regionally to advise and guide our neighbors in communicating as a single team.

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer