The University of West Florida is playing host this weekend to an exercise by local emergency response organizations, which is aimed at beefing up community resilience.
Santa Rosa County Emergency Management is teaming up with SAFER – the Support Alliance for Emergency Readiness, and BRACE – the Be Ready Agency Coordinating for Emergencies.
“The Advanced Citizen Corps Academy started years and years ago, when we had excess grant money at the state level, and they asked if anybody wanted to do anything with it,” said SAFER Administrator Daniel Hahn.
In coordination with their partners in Escambia County, Hahn says they decided to take it on as a project.
“We had such a good time doing it and it was such a rewarding experience for our volunteers who work in the disaster volunteer field, that we’ve tried to do it as often as possible,” Hahn said. “When there’s excess money – money turned back in not to be used – we’re going to try and get it here.”
The program kicks off at 7:30 Friday evening with introductions and so-called “micro” exercises. The heavy lifting begins on Saturday.
“That’s when we have a full day of training; from eight o’clock in the morning until eight or nine o’clock at night or even later,” said Hahn. “We’ve got some ham radio training, medical training, some psychological first aid, some search-and-rescue training, and map reading. And hopefully, there’s enough of them that they’ll leave here saying ‘I couldn’t do everything, because there wasn’t enough time.’”
In all, more than 20 topics and exercises will prepare attendees from across Florida for response to a wide variety of emergency situations. Chris Neal with BRACE adds that there are some topics that will be emphasized over the others.
“Shelter fundamentals, and point of distribution classes; two big areas that we need a lot of volunteers in the area whenever those disasters occur,” Nelson said. “Other ones that get a lot of people in are also the active shooters, [and] the incident responses.”
“One of the big things that we’re seeing with the academy is we’re having people from all over the state, all different agencies,” said Seth Nelson, who’s also with BRACE, and is a co-coordinator of the Citizens Corps.
“CERT teams, search-and-rescue, medical reserve corps, Department of Health, military, law enforcement representation,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be a good way for people to get comfortable with some of the other agencies; who’s to contact, [and] what kind of services they provide.”
One of the main goals for this weekend, says Nelson, is to bridge gaps between the various agencies; supplement the initial training volunteers receive, and prepare communities for the first 72 hours after an emergency.
This weekend’s drill is a team effort, but Chris Neal says the Be Ready Alliance also has its own individual goals when it comes to disaster response.
“BRACE wants the Pensacola area to be the most disaster-resilient community in the nation,” said Neal. “Any kind of training we can get, that’s our goal for everything.”
More information on this weekend’s exercise -- and how you can make your own disaster preparations are at the Santa Rosa and Escambia County emergency management websites, and at www.bereadyalliance.org.