Los Altos Hills tests disaster preparedness this weekend

Photo By: Photos by Eliie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Eliie Van Houtte/Town CrierFire District Battalion Chief Carol Miller and Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Sanders flank CERT members preparing for Saturday’s training exercise. Volunteers use handheld devices, inset, to collect data.

Residents of Los Altos Hills need not be alarmed or annoyed by people walking their streets 1-5 p.m. Saturday afternoon clad in green vests and carrying clipboards. They’re not selling anything – or polling residents – they’re testing their emergency-response skills.

As many as 187 Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers plan to participate in the afternoon exercise, which re-enacts the procedures they would implement in the wake of a major emergency.

Although members of the Los Altos Hills County Fire District will be on hand for the simulation, trained local volunteers will take the lead in coordinating emergency-response operations in the event of an actual crisis. Simulations offer volunteers the opportunity to put their training and skills to the test under pressure.

An incident commander will spearhead the operation from CERT’s command center – or “Ark,” as it’s frequently called – at Foothill College. That’s where a radio and phone operator, scribe and other certified disaster-service workers join the leadership team to manage logistics.

From the Ark, the team collects data from on-the-ground volunteers in 56 microzones in Los Altos Hills.

In an emergency, CERT volunteers canvass their neighborhoods to survey damage and identify people or households in need of assistance. On the day of the simulation, volunteers will respond to one of 18 potential scenarios, ranging from a major earthquake on the San Andreas Fault to a spreading wildfire.

When CERT volunteers complete their surveys of the situation, they report back to the command center with data on their zones.

The incident commander and his or her team then report the data – collected via paper and handheld devices – to city officials, the fire district, PG&E and Santa Clara County’s emergency operations center in San Jose.

During the last exercise in May 2011, CERT volunteers surveyed the town in two hours, 45 minutes, according to Mike Sanders, emergency services coordinator for the fire district. With an increase in CERT and personal emergency preparedness certifications in town since the last exercise, Sanders said he expects an even faster response time Saturday.

For more information on emergency preparedness in Los Altos Hills, visit


The Town Crier documented CERT volunteers at an emergency exercise Oct. 20 and have created a short video to give you insight into the emergency response process.

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