Would Burlingame residents participate in a virtual drill instead of meeting in person to respond to a simulated emergency? The answer is yes! At Burlingame’s eighth annual Disaster Survival Drill on Saturday, October 10, a total of 324 residents joined 31 groups to practice responding to an “emergency within an emergency” – an earthquake that supposedly occurred while everyone was sheltering in place.
“This year’s drill generated lots of excitement among both new and experienced neighborhood groups,” said Suzanne Tateosian, who works with neighborhood leaders and helped organize the drill for the Burlingame Neighborhood Network (BNN). She found that participants in the nine new groups that participated were enthusiastic about the new connections they made during the drill and wanted to learn more, while members of the 22 experienced groups that took part were pleased to learn ways to overcome challenges posed by the pandemic during an emergency.
What was new. Instead of meeting at an “Incident Command Post” to patrol their block for simulated problems, as participants have done in the past, this year they practiced communicating about and responding to incidents such as fires and downed power lines via different communication modes – all within the safety of their own homes. Some participants who work regularly with technology found communicating to be a breeze, while others learned how to connect via Zoom for the first time.
For the first time, the groups participating included three apartment complexes and members of local Boy Scout Troop 156. One of the scouts, Ben Upchurch, organized a drill on his Cabrillo Avenue block for his Eagle Scout project. Burlingame Mayor Emily Beach and Council Member Donna Colson both participated in the drill. Former Mayor Colson commented, “This year’s virtual event showcased another way that community members can connect (even if not in person) during an emergency and highlighted the importance of maintaining updated and accurate contact information for friends and neighbors.” Representatives from the Central County Fire Department (CCFD) and Burlingame Police Department visited various groups via Zoom to offer “injects” – unexpected new developments such as freeway closures.
Dena Gunning of CCFD remarked, “To see so many neighborhoods engaged and helping one another to become more resilient during these trying times was truly an inspiration.” She encouraged Burlingame residents to sign up for free Community Emergency Response Training (CERT), which will be offered online for the first time; signup are here.
Free caches. Suzanne said she anticipates 10 of the groups that participated will qualify for free caches of emergency supplies if they participate in next year’s drill. The caches, which are valued at $550, are awarded to neighborhood groups that participate in at least two annual drills and host other neighborhood activities. They are funded by the City of Burlingame. Learn more about the cache program.
BNN Chair Holly Daley commended Suzanne, David Harris, Anne Hinckle and Justin Kromelow of BNN’s board for organizing this year’s drill. She said, “Because 2020 was so tumultuous, BNN felt it was especially important to hold block drills this year. We have seen wildfire evacuations, hurricane rescues and other disasters. So, this drill was a chance to practice how our neighbor responses might be different during a pandemic.”
Lisa Rosenthal, who helped lead neighbors on Bernal Drive in the drill, said, “Given the limitations of Zoom, the drill went remarkably well. We were able to convey the main message to neighbors that we need to work together to keep each other safe. We also explained our tiered approach to checking on neighbors, reporting incidents that need attention and communicating those incidents that need to be addressed to police, fire or medical personnel. We added more neighbors to our network and all those who participated were grateful for the exercise.”
New connections. Holly noted that one focus of this year’s drill was to encourage neighborhoods to create a simple block directory to help neighbors get to know who is on their block, as well as how to contact them during an emergency. Suzanne’s group on Cumberland Drive took that mission one step further, agreeing to start a “Buddy Program” that has assigned neighbors to check on the welfare of neighbors who might have special needs.
Justin Kromelow, who specializes in communication, was excited by the progress that amateur “Ham” radio communicators made during the drill. Instead of stationing Hams at local schools, where they would escalate urgent messages to the city’s Emergency Operations Center, this year local Hams checked in from a variety of locations. “For the first time during a drill,” Justin said, “the Hams established that radio communications could be carried out in a reliable and predictable manner from the hills to the flats of Burlingame. This learning will be applied to next year’s drill by having block and neighborhood Hams operate in a more mobile role.”
Founded in 2006, the Burlingame Neighborhood Network encourages neighbors to connect with one another to build a sense of community, become informed about disaster preparedness and support one another during emergencies. For more information, including lots of emergency preparedness resources, visit BurlingameNetwork.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.