Simulation prepares volunteer groups for tragedy

By: Nico Rubello | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 8, 2013

 Warren CERT team member Michael Rose finds the victim actor Beth Gilday, who, according to the training simulation, tells him she was hit by a table in the woods during a severe 
weather event.

Warren CERT team member Michael Rose finds the victim actor Beth Gilday, who, according to the training simulation, tells him she was hit by a table in the woods during a severe weather event.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On a sunny day at Stony Creek Metropark, April 27, search-and-rescue volunteers in reflective orange jackets combed through trees and thick brush, scanning for signs of “injured runners” as a sheriff’s helicopter buzzed over the treetops.

But this was just a simulation of a crisis. The scenario: a severe wind event that had ripped through a local run event, and many were reportedly missing in the woods.

The purpose of the training exercise was to help the involved volunteers better respond in the event of a real crisis. About 35 volunteers from the Macomb County Amateur Radio Public Service Corps, the Warren Citizen Emergency Response Team and a Clinton Township-based Civil Air Patrol Van Dyke squadron attended.

After several minutes of walking through the brush, someone spotted a “victim” sitting on a stump a short ways from where the group is walking.  A few of the searchers rushed over to him and he told them his ankle was injured.

Since the exercise was primarily a radio communications exercise, amateur radio operators stationed with the group radioed in information about the location and “injury” to amateur radio operator Ray Tomlinson, who a short ways away was sitting at the on-site command station. Tomlinson jotted the information down in a notebook, repeated to another radio operator sitting next to him, Kurt Broman, who in turn relayed the message to radio operators stationed at the Macomb County Emergency Operations Center and St. John Macomb Hospital.

“You don’t want to know what to expect because you don’t know what to expect in real life,” Broman said. “When we do this, we learn about what we shouldn’t be doing, like having our radios too close together and stuff like that.”

They ran the simulation twice, and after the entire exercise was done, the group gathered around for a run-down assessment. The purpose of the exercise was to find and address problems before a crisis, so the volunteers can be ready and the issues addressed before the pressure of a real-life emergency.

“The people doing the search and rescue, you want them to experience as much as possible a real life situation,” said Warren CERT coordinator Michael Riley.

Afterward, it will be up to Paul Reinhardt, the emergency coordinator and races coordinator of the Macomb County amateur radio corps, to assess the results and find out how the volunteers can improve their tactics.

“The nicest thing for us is to go to an event, do our communications, not have an injury, not have a problem, and go home and be ready to do it again,” Reinhardt said. “But when something does happen, you’re glad someone’s been training for it.””

And though this type of mass-scale tragedy isn’t common, it isn’t unheard of for volunteer groups, like the amateur radio corps, to be on the scene at a local run if something does happen.

Two years ago at Stony Creek, a runner passed the Mile 13 marker during a half marathon when he fell down, Reinhardt said. When they got him to the hospital, he had a core body temperature of 104 degrees.

“With the people we had working that day, we saved him,” Reinhardt said.

Some of the volunteers spend their weekends traveling to volunteer at various runs and other events around the Midwest.

“They like to volunteer, ultimately, because they want to help people if there ever were a natural disaster or any kind of a problem,” Riley added.

Universal Macomb Ambulance made an ambulance available at the scene in the event a real medical emergency did happen. The Salvation Army also provided food and coffee to the volunteers.