PHOTO GALLERY: Naples airport fake drill helps responders prepare for real thing

Screams and groans emanated Saturday morning from every corner of the debris-strewn tarmac at the east end of Naples Municipal Airport.

One by one, community emergency response (CERT) teams spread out to locate, assess and help the victims before assisting them to a triage area.

Around 9 a.m. a hypothetical tornado had struck the fictitious Blue Moon trailer park, wreaking havoc on property and human life.

The disaster drill included CERT teams from North and East Naples, the city of Naples and Marco Island, while assisting agencies included the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Naples Police Department, Red Cross and Salvation Army. Community representatives were Tall Oaks, Fiddlers Creek and Verona Walk.

The victims were mostly school student volunteers, who drenched themselves in fake blood and submitted themselves to simulation of the most extreme injuries possible.

Assistant exercise commander for the day, Bob Coffeen, said the hands-on experience for the various CERT teams followed a classroom lecture series.

“They quickly learn how much harder it is to perform in actual situations,” Coffeen said. “This morning, we threw 32 victims at 22 responders, and overwhelmed them totally.”

Exacerbating the situation for the responders, the volunteer students shouted and screamed for help, sometimes appearing to be irrational, but that suited Coffeen just fine.

“When kids volunteer, they’re usually quiet in the beginning, but when one yells, they all start becoming good actors,” he said. “We want the responders to be a bit shocked ... a bit off balance.”

The youngsters were fairly original as well, sometimes adding a lighter touch to the proceedings to the temporary amusement of the responders.

One, for example, yelled from a vehicle dangerously close to a downed electric wire: “Help me. I’ve got a future. My dad says I could become president.”

Joe Frazier, exercise leader for the day, and Homeland Security Coordinator for Collier County Emergency Management, said the underlying importance of having trained CERT teams is that they can operate quickly in their own communities should disaster strike.

“They can take care of people until we can reach them,” he said. “We’re also teaching them lifelong skills.”

North Naples CERT team captain for the day, Bob Murphy, is a security and safety consultant in civilian life.

“I like to assist the local communities,” he said about being a volunteer.

East Naples representative Jean McNally said she volunteers because “somebody has to do it, and we can help in a real emergency.”

Volunteer Dwight Saunders, a retiree, looked satisfied after dousing a roaring propane fire with a single pass of a fire cylinder.

“I enjoy it,” he said of being a volunteer. “It helps people, and it’s also something to do.”

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