"When the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earth Quake struck western Washington on February 28, 2001, Whatcom County in northwestern Washington, felt the earthquake but was spared from significant damage. Homes, schools, and businesses shook and nerves were rattled. Telephone Systems soon became overloaded as people tied up the lines trying to validate what they felt and saw.
"As is common in disasters, this presented a communications challenge for emergency management personnel. Disaster assessments were delayed as Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staff tried to reach areas in the community where prefixes were temporarily unavailable.
"Situation Reports were completed with the information received by members of CERT, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and emergency response agencies. In Whatcom County, CERT members are encouraged to check in with the EOC if there is a disaster and they are no longer needed in their own neighborhoods. They have self-activated five times since the program started two years ago.
"Those living or working close to the EOC after the earthquake arrived to offer assistance and were put to work answering phones and monitoring news reports, along with a variety of other tasks. Their contribution was valuable and made a difference.
"We were lucky to have suffered comparatively minor damage to our local homes and businesses. The quake provided the opportunity to test current response systems and show how citizens, trained through the CERT program, can benefit their community and after disasters.
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members self-activated, surveying their homes and neighborhoods. Some CERT members used their phone company's 800 access number when local phone lines were tied up to call in damage reports for the areas that were previously unreachable."
While self-activation makes sense for CERT teams that may not apply to Emergency Communications units. While it can be argued that an EMCOMM unit (or, more specifically, some participants such as a designated officer) should self activate, experience tells us that there are officials that disagree. As to why and how to overcome, see the next bulletin.