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COOS BAY — The Harding Building of Marshfield High School was turned into a disaster area Saturday as the Community Emergency Response Team conducted an emergency training simulation for its final exam and graduation.

The Community Emergency Response Team conducts an emergency training simulation Saturday in the Harding Building at Marshfield High School.

The old school building was turned into a scene of chaos with injuries, panic and adrenaline from volunteers performing as victims of an earthquake. The 32 CERT trainees had to respond to the situation, assigning roles, searching for victims, administering triage and first aid, calming panicking people or those wandering in a daze, as well as maintaining their own command structure and communication. They also got to deal with bystanders harassing them and looking for information.

"I always try to come up something a little different every time," said Karl Elsner, one of the CERT coordinators, describing his role as a reporter in the simulation. "I give them a sense of difficulty. Normally in a major disaster, they're going to be swamped by dozens of people and not just one person, so I try to make myself as obnoxious as possible to fill up that gap."

Members of the Community Emergency Response Team locate a victim during an emergency training simulation Saturday in the Harding Building at M…

After the scenario completed, everyone gathered and discussed how things went with the CERT instructors, volunteers and trainees giving their feedback on what happened, what they experienced and what they observed. By the end, everyone has an idea of how the situation went and where review should be done to improve. Elsner noted it's impossible to fail the "final" and it's mostly for people to get a hands-on feel for the scenario and see where they need to improve.

"They go through it as realistically as we can make it and still be safe," he said. "They can experience this and find out what they need to work on."

CERT's eight week course is free for community members. They cover terrorist events, shooters, search and rescue, natural disasters and other situations. The simulation acts as part of the graduation ceremony, after which trainees are free to register with the county to be an active volunteer in the event of a real emergency.

The Community Emergency Response Team conducts an emergency training simulation Saturday at the Harding Building at Marshfield High School.

"Even if they don't register, they've gone through the course and they get the basic knowledge of what to do and what not to do," said Kim Singh, one of the CERT leaders.

Though it is a stressful situation, and everyone makes mistakes, Elsner and Singh said it is a fun experience that most people enjoy. Singh recalled one group of young women who volunteered in the past that got very into screaming and could be heard all across the building.

Elsner said CERT is funded under FEMA, but operates from the county level, reporting directly to Mike Murphy in Coquille. CERT trains people in disaster response for everything from terrorist and shooter situations to natural disasters like fires, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. They will, however, focus on regional-specific issues, such as floods and earthquakes for the South Coast.

"It depends on what part of the country you're in, as to what you'll primarily worry about," said Elsner. "Here it's of course the tsunami and earthquake."

Volunteers with the Community Emergency Response Team conduct a training simulation Saturday in the Harding Building at Marshfield High School.

He noted that investigations have shown most people in a disaster situation are rescued by neighbors, family and friends, and that there can be deaths and injuries as the result of these rescue attempts. Because of this, CERT's goal is to give people the knowledge and understanding of how to respond to a situation safely. Elsner said they want people to know how to respond safely, and in a way where as few people as possible are hurt.

Singh said she encourages everyone to take the class, so they're prepared with the knowledge of how to respond to a situation. The group plans to hold another course this spring, and one is always held in the fall. Details of when the spring course will take place are not available at this time.

More information on CERT can be found on the FEMA website. The local group also has a Facebook page at bayareacert, as well as their own website at bayareacert.com. Singh said there are updates on trainings posted online and any questions can be sent to her through the website.

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Reporter Adam Robertson can be reached at 541-297-3590, or by email at adam.robertson@theworldlink.com.

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