JAMES CITY —Standing outside a villa at Patriot's Colony with a group of men in bright green vests with flashlights at the ready, security manager Robert Hall told them, "We're on our own for a while."

Though the sun was shining and the weather was calm on Wednesday afternoon, Hall painted a picture of disaster at the retirement community along John Tyler Highway. He told the nearly dozen men, who are all members of the Community Emergency Response Team, that at 1:15 a.m. the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area.

Per the scenario, 30 minutes later Williamsburg was directly impacted by the storm, knocking out power and phone service to the area and damaging a unit within the community. Patriot's Colony responded by deploying its CERT team.

Tom Wishart, a retired Navy commander trained in disaster response as part of James City's CERT program, said performing drills like the one held Wednesday is necessary to work out the kinks before a real disaster occurs.

"If we have a serious incident, the roads are blocked and the first responders can't get here, then we're on our own," he said, echoing Hall's briefing.

Hall said the goal is to make their community more self-sufficient in the event of disaster. He said they began encouraging residents to get certified about three years ago, noting they've gone from "absolutely nothing" to the team they have now. Wishart said Patriot's Colony has about two dozen CERT members with more residents in training.

Brian Tenney, Executive Director at Patriot's Colony, said in a statement that residents and select staff members founded the community's CERT team to ensure the safety of all residents. Hall said Patriot's Colony and Riverside Health System have been very supportive of the effort.

"The team went as far as building an emergency supply trailer," Tenney said, "which is stocked full of disaster relief supplies they can distribute around campus if something were to happen."A unit under renovation was used to conduct the drill. Team members were told branches came through the sun room windows and it's unclear how many people were inside the apartment, sharing that the front gate had a guest list for that unit the night before the tornado hit."

There's more people than you think in there," shouted Bobbie Garver, a resident of a neighboring unit employed as an actor in the drill, as team members arrived. "You have to help them. They're my best friends."

Garver said it's a comfort knowing her community has a group of residents trained to respond in emergency situations. She said people often think they're not going to be involved in a disaster, but every day there's another report of one on the news.Bob Rumpf, a retired Navy commander who served as the team leader during the drill, received his CERT training about seven years ago when he was part of Ford's Colony's team, which he said was 50 members strong. He explained that training included radio communications, building searches, and rescue operations, including how to assist a trapped person.

Organized into teams, the members of the CERT team searched the perimeter of the residence looking for hazards before entering the home. Inside they found evidence of a ceiling collapse, a small fire, occupants with injuries and a woman trapped beneath the rubble.

Members evacuated the people inside the building, assessing injuries and triaging people. Hall said the team planned to run several scenarios of the drill on Wednesday afternoon.

"The idea is to practice and to learn," Hall said.


Published: August 5, 2014