Urban Shield (October Team Training Recap)

By Randy Franks

P1010246The October full team training was a unique three-day opportunity for CoCoSAR to demonstrate its “people power,” supporting the 2013 Urban Shield Exercise.
 
As part of the region-wide event, the Contra Costa Sheriff and Coroner hosted a mass-fatality scenario simulating a passenger rail crash. The scenario, involving 150 dead and 250 injured, was designed to overwhelm local and regional capabilities and require federal assistance.
 
CoCoSAR team members assisted with site set-up on Friday, October 25, coordinated logistics and staffed the Incident Command Post during the exercise on Saturday, and assisted with break-down and clean up on Sunday.
 
Urban Shield was also chance to review the team’s role as a responding agency for the Contra Costa Operational Area All-Hazards Mass Fatality Plan. According to the plan, the team would conduct search missions related to the mass fatality event. This could include canine resources searching for remains and cadavers, or ground teams searching for missing subjects.
 
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A Family Support Center was deployed and staffed by the American Red Cross, CoCo Health Services and Emergency Medical Services, and CoCo Employment & Human Services. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s disaster mortuary (DMORT) team was deployed as part of the federal assistance.
 
Alameda County Sheriff, San Mateo Sheriff, San Mateo Coroner, San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, San Francisco Medical Examiner and Marin Coroner participated in the scenario.

The CoCoSAR 100

By John Banuelos
 
Type III Academy 2013One of the chief assets of CoCoSAR is its size. We number at 200-plus members at any given time. This number of members allows us to send out a solid count of searchers at any one time to provide robust assistance, both in and out of couty. And if the first callout doesn’t bring enough searchers, the number will swell with the second callout.
 
However, for the Academy staff ,the power of 200 is magnified by the commitment of its members to “pay it forward” to a new generation of Academy students.  In 2012, over 100 members participated with the Class of 2012 and its 40 candidates.  In 2013, over 100 again participated with the Class of 2013 and its 31 candidates. It is a demonstration, in my mind, of our team’s enthusiasm to help. It is volunteers volunteering even more of their time to the development of the team.
 
Members helped as coaches, a resource that was repeatedly used by 2013 candidates. Coaches represented the kind and helpful face of CoCoSAR.
 
Type II Hike 2013Other members repeatedly served as instructors and proctors to help students understand navigation, first aid, radio communication and other miscellaneous SAR skills during many lecture portions of the academies. Many gave up weekends to assist in with the Type 3 USAR Type 4 skills Saturday, the navigation practical Sunday followed by the Type 2 low-angle rigging Sunday and the full weekend of fun known as UNO.
 
At times the proctors and team members exceeded the students themselves;
Orientation  - 41 members
Type 3 hike – 41 members
Type 2 Hike – 49 members
UNO – 57 members
 
UNO 2013USAR, MRG, Bike Team, and Tracking contributed resource members or introduced the skills of the resource to the academies.  Leaders of Search Management and Hasty were contributors to the academies and UNO.
 
No academy can progress without the contribution of team members.  To each and every one of you, the Academy staff wishes to say, “ Thank you!” I hope to see all of you at the academies of 2014.
 
And for those members who have just graduated, remember the gift you were given by the generations that came before you. Consider paying it forward in 2014.

Mount Diablo Challenge Medical Detail Recap

Mount Diablo Challenge

On October 6th, 2013, CoCoSAR provided medical support for the Mount Diablo Challenge. This was the annual bike ride up Mt. Diablo, an 11.2 mile timed bike ride, starting at Athenian School in Danville and climbing up Southgate Road 3,249 feet to the summit of Mount Diablo. Approximately 1,000 cycling enthusiasts competed. 

More than 25 CoCoSAR team members staffed 6 medical stations located on Mt Diablo.

Training Recap: AWST 2013

1146801_10201536653200777_95795421_oAugust began with the CoCoSAR Type 1 MRG Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics (AWST) training. Conducted once a year, this is one of the major training markers to qualify for MRG/Type 1, covering a period of three days and two nights in the mountains at altitudes above 7,000 feet.

This year, 12 candidates and six proctors traveled to Mammoth to train in the Thousand Island Lake area in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Kristl Buluran was one of the candidates and this is her story.

I’m probably the most inexperienced candidate in this pool. I joined SAR last year with no backpacking or camping experience, so what was my rationale to continue through the Type 1 academy? I wanted to help people. But, truthfully, I also wanted to be badass.

What I lacked in skill and experience, I thought I could make up for in determination and heart, and I could learn the skills and gain the experience along the way.

Or, maybe not.

Three sheriff’s vehicles transported 18 people for the six-hour drive. Halfway through Yosemite, I started feeling tingling in my fingers and toes, lightheadedness, mild motion sickness, and just an overall feeling of unease. I hoped it would pass–I was determined and looking forward to beginning the hike.

At Mammoth, lead proctor Joe Keyser split us up into two teams to hike 9 miles to camp at Thousand Island Lake.

This turned out to be by far the most challenging and brutal hike I’ve ever done. I battled dizziness and lightheadedness the entire hike.  I am a slow hiker even at best (Mikel Kinser anointed me “Stubby” for good reason). I also got a much-needed, but harsh lesson in the level of teamwork required for Type 1 when it became clear the team would not make it to camp before sunset at the pace I was setting; I would have to share some of my load with my teammates.

Oh, what a humbling experience. Yet, everyone was supportive and understanding, and, after eventually sucking up my pride, I was grateful my teammates absorbed some of my pack weight. We made it to camp with barely enough light to set up.

That evening, most felt okay, aside from the headache and slight nausea that is common while adjusting to high altitude. Some (including me) were a bit worse for wear… more nausea, more dizziness, more blech. I ate and drank what I could, then retired to my tent.

Sleep was not to be because I couldn’t breathe. And breathing was not to be because of the altitude. Plus, despite all my layers,  I was freezing.

In the morning, Todd Rogers took over as lead proctor for a training-filled day, beginning with a lesson in using what was in our packs to create litters to carry a downed subject.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.36.33 PMProctors hammered us with questions: What if this person had a head injury? How would you hold C-spine? What about a broken leg — show me what you would use to splint it. What if he had both? Is your litter sturdy enough to support his entire body? What if you only had three people?

So many questions! But all of them were necessary to demonstrate possible dilemmas and solutions in a Type 1 rescue, and to illustrate the level of teamwork required to bring someone safely down a mountain.

After a few hours, we were split into two teams with Natalie Zensius and Laura Carmody as leads. The choice: a very challenging search area or a very, VERY challenging search area. Natalie’s team chose the latter, Laura’s the former. Guess which team I was on?

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 10.40.10 PMWe were instructed to grid the area along the way to our search area. This exercise drove home the difficulties of searching an area of dense wilderness and uncharted terrain. It became clear that two things are musts for a Type 1: qualified and fit team members, and lots and lots of callouts.

In order to be a Type 1 searcher, one needs to be conditioned as well as fit. There is a difference and I, who have always considered myself fit, realized I was not conditioned.

As we climbed to over 10,000 feet, I immediately felt the effects of altitude and fell out. Everything began to spin. I fought hard against it as my team carried me to a rock under shade. Laura and Pat Dodson placed wet cloths over me while Micheal Riggs and Steve Webber took off my pack and fanned me down. In the meantime, John Banuelos and Mary Carreno decided I was done and Mary would walk me back to camp.

This time I did not protest. I wanted down … and out.

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I did not complete this part of the training, but I later learned Banuelos became the subject who “fell while taking a bio break.” My team called the other team to assist in building a litter to carry him to a landing zone. (The other team also had to run uphill to make it to a “helicopter pickup” within 20 minutes.  Hate to say it, but I was happy to not have been on that team.)

About five hours later, both teams returned, exhausted. I felt so much better (apparently the climb to over 10,000 feet is exactly what I needed to acclimate). I was glad to see everyone and anxious to hear their stories.

After dinner, Todd asked each team member three questions: What did you like about the training; what didn’t you like; and what have you learned? The responses helped give me perspective on training and preparation to be an effective and successful Type 1 member.

The second night was much more comfortable than the first thanks to acclimating. Next morning, coming “down” the mountain, we still did a lot of climbing. Although concerned because of my earlier difficulties, I felt much better and almost fully acclimated to the thin mountain air.

Once again we split into two groups: the fast group (Team 1), proctored by Banuelos and Andy Csepely, and the not-so-fast group (Team 2), proctored by Todd and led by Steve. Guess which group I was in?

Team 1 led the charge with about a 30-minute head start. I was asked to set the pace for Team 2. I was hesitant, but greatly encouraged by everyone on my team, especially Natalie, who said, “Don’t worry … I’m on her!”

And that she was. Thanks to tips Laura and Natalie gave me on how to maneuver over rough terrain, loose rock and shale, and how to use trekking poles, etc., my pace was soon both brisk and comfortable. In fact, I found myself hiking faster than I ever had before. Something about acclimating made me feel like Superwoman; blood flowing, oxygen filling my lungs, head clear … I had energy I hadn’t had in days … or maybe ever.

1091053_10201536658520910_281168325_oThroughout the hike we checked in with Team 1 and soon learned they weren’t far ahead. Team 1 had left sticks and branches spelling out “Team 1” (as if to mark their dominance), which only served to tickle my competitive streak.

“You know, we could actually catch up to them, Kristl,” my team said. “It would be awesome to see Banuelos’ face when he sees us passing them, Kristl.”

That did it; we were off.  And when we caught up to Team 1 and Banuelos saw us coming, he yelled, “No way!” Team 1 parted a course for us to pass, exchanging high-fives and “good jobs!”

In the end, I found great satisfaction in knowing I made it through the weekend, as difficult and challenging as it was. Even though I failed AWST, I learned what it takes to be a Type 1 – the level of conditioning necessary to be an effective team member, and the seriousness of the training to match the seriousness of the search and rescue. I learned of my own limitations, and how being unprepared adversely affects a search when lack of skills creates a liability.

Moreover, I believe there is no such thing as failure; only opportunities, lessons learned, and good stories. I have much more to learn, but this weekend solidified my respect for the Type 1 team and increased my gratitude for teammates who were there for me.

Now the best part of this story is the ending, when I say, “So, while we were at the shuttle stop waiting for Team 1….”

A CoCoSAR Training We Couldn’t Pass Up

On the weekend of October 26th Urban Shield 2013 will be taking place across the Bay Area. Urban Shield is a comprehensive full-scale, regional preparedness exercise. It encompasses real world scenarios to assess the Bay Area Region‘s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training. Urban Shield tests regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area.

This year Contra Costa is the lead participant under the Emergency Management Area Command in Urban Shield.  As such, we will be the lead Emergency Operations Center and Coroner responding to a mass fatality incident—a simulated train collision in Martinez. This will be a multi-County Emergency Operations Center functional exercise in the morning with a Portable Field Morgue and Mock Family Assistance Center Demonstration in the afternoon. 

The afternoon Demonstration will simulate a full activation of a Disaster Mortuary Operations response Team (DMORT), including

  • temporary field morgue facilities
  • victim identification & processing
  • forensic dental pathology
  • forensic anthropology methods
  • DNA processing
  • radiology
  • disposition of remains

We expect up to 200 representatives from across the Bay Area and California Coroner’s Offices, fire, law and public health to attend the Portable Morgue & Family Assistance Center Demonstration.

While this is outside of the normal scope of the SAR mission, if we were to experience a large scale incident of this nature, there is a good chance the SAR Team would be involved in one way or another.

Due to the unique opportunity to work directly with our regional, state and out-of-state partners, CoCoSAR will be integrating our monthly full team training resources into this regional exercise. Supporting this exercise will give us the opportunity to get hands on experience setting up large-scale, federal disaster response assets, observe–and possibly participate in–regional mutual aid EOC coordination, familiarize ourselves with portable field morgue resources, as well as develop relationships with our regional and out-of-state partners.

CoCoSAR Team members can sign up at http://contracostasar.org/Detail/Search/urban.

Mission Summary: June 2013

  • 6/9/2013 – Bike to Bridges. There were four CoCoSAR bikes involved. There was some confusion about how much of the ride was to be covered (of the 25 miles) and one member of the group had difficulty about halfway through the ride. It was suggested that there should be a policy to state that riders only have a partial area to cover.
     
  • 6/24/13 – A hiker (35 years old) called his family as it was getting dark and said he was lost on Mt. Tamalpais. Shortly after that, his phone battery died. Marin searched in the night and called for mutual aid first thing in the morning. CoCoSAR was en route when the hiker self-rescued. Read team member John Hubinger's write-up of this callout.
     
  • 6/28/13 – Sheriff’s Office SERT competition. Twenty SAR members attended the SERT competition and were tasked with crowd control rather than medical. There was no ambulance standing by, however, and there were two injuries and five heat-related issues. 

Initial CoCoSAR Full Team Survey Results

Over 100 team members took the survey and gave us valuable insight into what we as a team are doing right and where the team might have some opportunities to improve. Overall, 92 percent of team members are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our team.

Below are a few more highlights.

  • 97 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our overall team performance.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our search preparedness.
  • 96 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our monthly full-team trainings.
  • 74 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct an after-action review.
  • 95 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct in-county searches.
  • 91 percent are satisfied or strongly satisfied with our ability to conduct out-of-county searches.
  • 92 percent agree or strongly agree the expectations of a CoCoSAR team member have been clearly explained.
  • 63 percent agree or strongly agree they receive the proper supervision and feedback on their SAR performance.
  • 94 percent agree or strongly agree they have received the proper training to meet the expectations of our SAR duties.
  • 78 percent agree or strongly agree there is opportunity on the SAR team for advancement.

Over the next several weeks, the Command Staff will conduct a full analysis of the survey results. We'll share the information with the full team in September.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. Your feedback is extremely valuable and a critical component to the success of the team.

 

Mutual-Aid Callout, Marin County

By John Hubinger

On June 25, CoCoSAR received an early-morning mutual-aid call to a search in Marin County at the Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. We would be looking for a 38-year-old male who had been hiking in the early evening when he realized, as it was getting dark, that he was lost and contacted his family just before his phone batteries died.

With the fog and rain, this was June’s coldest day so far.

Teams from Marin SAR had been called out at midnight and approximately 20 team members began searching around 1 a.m. The Mutual-aid callout happened circa 4 a.m.

Self-transporting, I arrived at the CP just after 8 and shortly thereafter we heard that the subject had been located in good condition.  At about 8:25, the subject arrived at CP mildly hypothermic, wet, tired, confused and wrapped in a blanket. The incident commander asked me to get the subject a cup of coffee, so when I brought it to him, I was able to listen to his debrief. 

Here is what he said:

After sending a picture text to his family, the subject became aware it was getting dark and he was still about three hours out. Trying to return to his car, he took a wrong turn and instead, headed in the opposite direction. At about 9:30 he called his family saying he was lost and soon after that his iPhone batteries died (so now he had no communication, map or light). He walked another hour until the trail ended, then made the decision to stay put for the night, huddling by a tree and using his hoody for cover and shelter.

At first light, he started to retrace his path and eventually was able to find the right trail. Several teams came very close to him, both at night and that morning, but none saw him.

After his debrief by the IC commander, he was given a full medical by a team of paramedics and the SAR personnel were debriefed, thanked and dismissed.  

Lessons learned:

·       Many moderately experienced hikers go out for “day hikes” without proper clothing, food, water and navigational information.

·       It is not uncommon for hikers to rely too heavily on smart phones (or GPS), only to find they don’t get reception, they run out of batteries or that the phones are of limited value – in this case all of the above!

·       Remembering that a landmark such as a lake was on the “right side” going out and therefore now should be on the left side coming back, doesn’t help if the lake in question is a different lake and you have no map or position on a GPS device.

That last point became clear to me after the assignment was over because I chose to stay to explore and hike the unfamiliar area. I retraced the path of the subject (the path he outlined was fairly clear). About three hours into my hike/run it became quite clear where he might have been when he made that “I think I’m lost” phone call. The whole retrace took me about 6.5 hours (with GPS, water, charged phone, map and some gear – no pack, but more than I usually take trail running on my own). It was interesting to imagine myself in the boots of the lost hiker at the point where he spent a cold uncomfortable evening.

My BWST : The View from the Back

By Wilma Murray

“The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where …”

It’s an old song, and familiarity with its lyrics no doubt dates me (and you). But it’s the song that comes to mind following what was a long, winding weekend for me as I tried to pocket another requirement on the way to Type-1dom: Basic Wilderness Search Tactics, or, BWST for short.

            There’s something a little crazy about this journey for me. (Okay, a LOT crazy.) Despite being a longtime soccer player (30+ years) who loves to play sports, I am no outdoors aficionado. In fact, I’m the queen of comfort, always eschewing dirt and inconvenience if it isn’t attached to a competitive game. I’m most happy in a cozy chair with a good book.

            And, frankly, I’m pretty creaky, with joints that could use a good dose of WD-40 every day (and ½ of one that’s made of spare parts). But in the almost-three years I’ve been on the CoCoSAR team, I’ve found myself drawn to doing things I never thought I could do – or wanted to do. Hiking, for starters.

            The basic Type 3 hike was a slog for me; dragged down with my son’s metal weights in the bottom of a school backpack, I was anything but searcher-ready. But then I began to get the hang of it and by last year, I actually enjoyed proctoring Type 2 hikes.

            Fast forward to this year: Here I was, heading out for my novice backpacking weekend with a group of die-hard outdoors persons (okay, except for Kristl), a borrowed backpack et al (thanks, Lauren) on my back. I had set up the tent once in my family room. Otherwise, this was all new. And, frankly, scary as all you-know-what.

            Right off the bat, I needed special treatment. Can’t do winding roads, so I had to drive. But all were willing to accommodate, and this continued, every step of the way.

            From that point on, my weekend was a team effort … from the beginning, when John Hubinger helped me fit my backpack properly; to the middle, when Chris Coelho and Robert Medearis helped me drive the stakes into the ground (and advised me on the finer tent details), and Banuelos walked me back to camp when others wanted to go the extra mile to watch another team; to the end, when my proctor Chris continued with welfare checks and offered to carry some of my stuff – fellow candidates and proctors were with me all the way. Encouragement and support were as high on the ingredients list as instruction.

            And despite my – often comedic – lack of experience, nobody balked. Nobody tried to discourage me, except me, and I was truly excellent at that, if nothing else. My weekend mantra, peppered with innumerable four-letter words (mostly inside my head, but a few eked out), was “I am SO NOT Type 1. This is SO NOT for me.”

            And yet …

            There is something incredibly compelling about being in the midst of people willing to go that extra mile – and another extra mile, and still another extra mile – to be prepared to help someone in need.

            Frankly, we have a whole team of folk like that, with people putting their energy full-force into all aspects of running the program. But the Type 1ers have a different kind of energy – not better, just different. They can admittedly be uber gung-ho, and for the neophyte, that can be intimidating. But they are also there, present, and ready to be of service, as was evidenced this weekend.

            I will never, ever be able to say, as others did at the debriefing: “Wow, this was FUN!” Nope. This is not my idea of fun. And at that point, I was so tired and sore and discouraged by my lack of ability to keep up that I was struggling just to keep my emotions in check.

            But I did it; I made it, thanks to all the hands and hearts that helped carry me along. I may not be able or willing to go on to the next step (Advanced Wilderness Search Tactics – a two-nighter event), or, if I do, I may not ever be on the Type-1 callout list. But to know that I was part of this intense process with such a strong and caring group of people made it all worth it.

            The rest of that song stanza – slightly paraphrased – sums up this remarkable team effort:

            “But we’re strong; strong enough to carry her; she ain't heavy, she's our sister.” 

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CoCoSAR Type 1 Candidates Steve Webber, Natalie Zensius, Wilma Murray (front row), Pat Dodson, Kristl Buluran, Phil Novak, Laura Carmody, Mikel Kinser, Don Kavanaugh, Micheal Riggs and John Hubinger relax after a challenging weekend. Team proctors: Chris Coelho, Tom McGee, Robert Medearis, Tim Murphy, John Banuelos, Reza Farsati and John Venturino.

(Photo: Natalie Zensius)