Urban Shield and CERT

Urban Shield just completed its annual training event. This year they included a new component: Green Command. This post is about one component (Green Command), and is not weighing in on the general nature of the event. From the Urban Shield 2017 CERT/NERT Invitation to Participate (PDF) (with a couple of [editorial clarifications] by us:

The Green Area Command (“CERT/NERT Branch”) is one of this year’s ten operational commands that will be hosting CERT/NERT scenarios from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday, September 9th. While CERT/NERT teams have helped to support the Urban Shield exercise over the years, they now have their own command in recognition of the important role they play in a community’s emergency preparedness and security efforts. This year’s host for the Green Area Command is the Palo Alto Police Department.

CERT/NERT scenarios will be based on responses to natural disasters and other major emergencies [that CERT/NERT] would be likely to respond to. Each CERT/NERT scenario will require rapid problem identification, hazard analysis, action planning and the prompt, efficient application of job knowledge or skill[s that the] teams have learned in their FEMA CERT/NERT training.

The Set-Up

The first scenario was an earthquake zone with four streets of 10 houses each, plus two special events (a hazmat situation at the end of one street, and a victim at the end of another). Each “house” was represented by a picture and brief description (e.g., severe damage to exterior but radio playing or dog barking inside). The teams were to do a damage assessment and plan how to respond.

houses in the earthquake zone

The second scenario was about severe weather, again with four streets of ten “buildings” that each presented a different flood situation. Again, two victims–one each at the end of two streets, with building materials on top of them. The teams were again engaged in damage assessment & rescue plans.

mock streets in a flood zone

The third site had a couple of activities: a fire station with extinguishers for practice, and a confidence course with a range of obstacles and victims along the path.

victim at the end of a tunnel

The fourth was a building collapse with several mannequins some 30-40 live (moulaged) and victims in various states of emergency.

mannequins for the building collapse, site 4

South San Franciscso Team Leaders
Photo credit: SSF CERT (via Twitter)

Each of the teams had roughly 90 minutes for the exercise including planning how to approach it and executing their plans. This was followed by 20 minutes or so of debriefing, then travel to the next scenario. All teams got to run through all four sites.

The Communications Contingent

Like a real emergency with no advance planning, it was “the best of times, and the worst of times.” In planning, we had an ICS-205 Frequency Use (Band) Plan with assigned simplex frequencies for ham radio operators and FRS channels for people who had them, but few people knew about the band plan and it wasn’t widely shared at first. The ham radio operators mostly programmed the frequencies into their radios on-site (or got help or did something else). People did not get directions on how to interface with each other to represent the site activities or the teams as they worked together, and didn’t know how to work with the FRS radio teams (or how they’d use any part of this system). We had lots of operators (great!), but how they worked together was not always smooth. There’s a lot we can learn from this.


Well over 100 people participated in four CERT teams, plus the staff that ran the whole thing. As the first of its kind (that we know of), it was a full day of lessons learned, practices updated, and challenges to disaster planning and the status quo. As a friend mentioned, this is a force multiplier that informs how official first responders might work with their trained CERT groups, and how citizens (trained and untrained) might work with first responders and with each other. We look forward to next year’s event.


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