CERT performs first emergency response drill of year on Gables campus

The Canes Emergency Response Team (CERT) participated in a disaster response drill to test their preparedness and life-saving skills in a severe hurricane scenario unexpectedly days before tropical storm Ernesto hit South Florida.

With a loud, controlled explosion the scenario began on the morning of Aug. 26. En route to the University of Miami for shelter, two Hurry Cane shuttles filled with Coral Gables residents, whose homes suffered damage from a category four hurricane, engaged in a simulated collision.

“The major obstacle was the craziness of the initial scene,” said Danny Carvajal, a junior and CERT president. “It took hard work to assess the situation, calm the teams, reorganize and get to work.”

CERT is a team of 32 students that provides basic first-aid, disseminates safety information and hands out water during emergency situations, such as hurricanes. They operate under the university’s Butler Volunteer Service Center. However, the team does not activate itself independently, but is called up by Dr. Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs or the Miami-Dade County’s Office of Emergency Management. CERT is notified 48 to 72 hours in advance of their activation and possible deployment.

The Coral Gables residents were portrayed by 18 School of Nursing students. CERT spectators included officials from the Coral Gables Fire Rescue and Police Department as well as the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department and Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. UM’s Department of Public Safety and other university staff also monitored the CERT members, further adding to the experience.

“We’ve practiced, but this time it is different because we are getting graded and people are watching us,” said DeeDee Phlatts, a junior and CERT team member.

Other CERT members, such as Michelle Pearlman, vice president of administration, found the disaster drill fun knowing that the situation was staged and the injuries victims sustained were mock wounds.

Heightening the reality of the wounds, blood was simulated with theater make-up called moulage, which was done by Professor Maha McCain of the Theater Arts Department and two of her students.

Although the CERT members enjoyed their experience, they were very aware of their surroundings during drill.

Part of their training entails terrorism awareness. In this capacity, members are taught to recognize unusual occurrences related to suspected terrorism activity and immediately move themselves and those around them to a safe distance.

For instance, during the drill, the team encountered a suspicious package left at their command post. Following the procedure, the team moved people and their command post away from the package until the proper officials arrived. Their success provided added satisfaction with their performance.

“I think we have been absolutely phenomenal,” Carvajal said. Carvajal added that it took CERT only an hour and a half to complete the drill.

The disaster response drill proved to be a well-timed test when CERT received notice of activation on Aug. 27, just two days before Tropical Storm Ernesto’s expected arrival.

“[The drill] renewed their excitement [and] enthusiasm so when we were activated for Ernesto, even though they weren’t used, they were very positive and ready to go,” said Keith “Fletch” Fletcher, director of the Butler VSC. “It was good to see.”

CERT will be accepting applications until Sept. 6. The training includes a mandatory 20-hour certification course over three days as well as participation in a disaster readiness drill.

The team, created by Carvajal, was modeled after a FEMA program called the Community Emergency Response Team. UM’s variant is primarily funded by the university, but is also currently awaiting a grant of $14,948 from the Florida State Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee.

Gaby Bruna also contributed to this article.

Fabiola Stewart may be contacted at f.stewart@umiami.edu.