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MAY 15, 2022 - Sentinel Response 2022

Full-scale emergency response drill held at the Sonoma Developmental Center
Sentinel  Response 2022
Emergency vehicles from across the state participate in “Sentinel Response 2022” at the Sonoma Developmental Center on April 29.Photo by Paul Goguen


MAY 15, 2022

By Christian Kallen

Armored vehicles lined many of the side roads, fire trucks were encamped on the Harney Loop, and helicopters — or were those drones? — hovered overhead. Khaki tents vied with mobile response units for space on the playing fields. Red Cross tents were scattered about, uniforms were either police blue, rescue yellow or camo. Many firearms were present. “It looks like a Michael Bay movie,” said one observer, a filmmaking student from San Francisco’s Academy of Arts and Sciences, referring to the action movie director.

The mock scenario went like this: At 3 p.m. on April 28, a massive 7.9 earthquake struck the North Bay, a tremblor equivalent to the historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake and far larger than the 6.0 Napa quake that shook Wine Country in 2014. “First responders are reporting numerous building collapses, multiple casualties, trapped or missing victims, fires, and the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials,” read the exercise overview of Sentinel Response 2022, the full-scale earthquake response exercise held at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) on April 29 and 30 this year.

Sentinel Response involves a dizzying alphabet soup of agencies, including the California Army National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (handily abbreviated as CBRN) Task Force’s Response Enterprise (CRE), with Civil Support Teams (CSTs) for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Radiological Assistance Program (RAP), Urban Search & Rescue (US& R) and many more. Despite what some former Boy Scouts might compare to the atmosphere of a Jamboree — a sprawling gathering of earnest if playful young men in uniform, showing off their knots and other skills — this is far more serious stuff.

“This is the third Sentinel Response exercise hosted by the California Army National Guard’s CBRN Task Force and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) Fire-Rescue Branch, Special Operations Branch,” said Philip White, the retired fire chief who was the lead exercise planner of this year’s exercise. Multiple “incidents” were played out during the two-day exercise, in two four-hour shifts, putting a deadline on a timely rescue or repair. Altogether about 650 people were involved in the training, said White, involving 24 local government hazardous materials/ CBRN teams and 24 urban searchand- rescue teams from as far away as San Diego.

The four-hour shifts were determined in part on the availability of volunteer “victims” recruited from the local public via news stories or through high schools with public safety programs, such as 15 Windsor High School students and more from Mission High School in San Francisco. The primary role of these volunteers was to act as “victims” in the various exercises; people trapped or injured by the earthquake. They enjoyed the attention of a “moulage” make-up artist to present scalp lacerations, extruded intestines, third-degree burns, broken limbs, and other injuries, moulage being the art of applying mock injuries for movies or emergency response training.

One such volunteer was Karina Garcia of First District Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office. She was made up, quite convincingly, as a burn victim of an explosion caused by the collapse of a building in the earthquake. She spent two hours in the dark basement of an old SDC facility waiting for “rescue” from firefighters from Modesto Urban Search and Rescue and National Guard trainees.

“This was an experience like no other,” Garcia told the Kenwood Press. “Being alert and awake, hearing all the sounds of equipment and hands breaking walls and crawling through tunnels to get to me, is quite impactful. My gratitude and most sincere respect and admiration for all first responders and agencies serving the public.”

For the first time, animal rescue was a part of multiple scenarios as well, thanks in part to the encouragement of Glen Ellen’s Julie Atwood of the HALTER Project.

“This is the first time in the country/California that animal disaster workers have been included in a multijurisdictional/ multi-agency first responder exercise of this nature,” said White. The incentive was the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, passed in 2006 following the issues encountered during Hurricane Katrina.

“By including animal disaster workers; animal technical rescue; animal decontamination; the University of California, Davis, veterinary response team; and wildlife rescue personnel in the exercise, I hoped to educate first responders about the capabilities they can bring in support of first responder response to natural disasters, technological incidents, and terrorist attacks,” White said.

On Friday, at the former laundry on the SDC campus, rescue workers discovered a grown horse (actually a full-size equine mannequin) injured by the quake, administered first aid and medication, and bound its four legs to immobilize it on a sliding gurney. The horse was then hauled by rescuers to a nearby trailer for evacuation. Capt. Gary Johnson of Sonoma Valley Fire triaged the operation with Animal Responders, looking for ways to improve in case an actual disaster made a similar rescue crucial.

Nearby, responders emerged from another damaged building with a fluffy white toy dog nicknamed “Bob” for the exercise. Close behind, a woman with a deep scalp laceration was carried out on another gurney. The Mission High student grinned as the rescuers released her from the gurney. “I sort of thought a rescue was just what the news shows you, but it’s really cool to see the whole process,” said Kate Habberdy, who is taking an emergency medical technician (EMT) class at her high school.

Some elements of the disaster training were too challenging to worry much about pets. Saturday would bring a response to a gas leak at the old Eldridge Fire Station and an unexpected radiological incident in an old building damaged by earthquake. That last one alone had three different rescue scenarios: two people rescued from the roof, another rescue from the basement, and a third of an individual who was near the center of the radiological leak,and had been so for 24 hours.

The question was whether to rescue or assume he was dead. The rescue team decided to make the rescue first and determine if he was alive after his extraction.

By the end of the two days, White described himself as pleased. “I believe the exercise exceeded everyone’s expectations. That’s what our end goal is … It takes a lot of people, a lot of organizations to come together to address all aspects of an emergency. Because ultimately that effort to be coherent, there has to be unity of effort, and that’s where you’re acting as one. And I think that we were able to achieve that.”

Volunteer victim Kate Habberdy, in moulage injury make-up, with veterinary training mannequin “Bob.” Habberdy attends Mission High School in San Francisco and is taking an emergency medical technician class. Photo by Christian Kallen

Volunteer victim Shannon Lee of Glen Ellen. Moulage make-up artists gave her a painless compound fractured tibia, a contusion on her calf, and cyanosis for first responders to triage and diagnose. Photo by Melissa Dowling

Animal Disaster Response Support trailer funded Photo by Melissa Dowling

First responders break through a fabricated concrete barrier to rescue a volunteer victim at the SDC. Photo by Paul Goguen

First responders practice rescuing people from cars trapped under concrete slabs. Photo by Paul Goguen

A hazmat team meets for a decontamination drill at the SDC. Photo by Paul Goguen