On October 19 – five years ago (2005), a “Special Report” video was titled, Emergency Preparedness – Can Sonoma County Communicate? and produced by the Clearstream Media Group. Panel presenters included the Deputy Emergency Services Coordinator for Sonoma County, the South County Auxiliary Services Communications Team Leader (ACS), the Petaluma Fire Chief, plus  a concerned citizen.

Following Hurricane Katrina, a FEMA official was quoted as saying, “The three most important lessons learned were communications, communications, communications?” The ability of first responders, Incident Commanders, and EmComm managers to communicate and keep in touch with each other when all normal means of communications are inoperable was a major problem and concern.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a  Red Cross volunteer on his way to New Orleans believed that the greatest cause of stress among the citizenry during a major disaster is lack of communication.

Before the “Special Report” TV show concluded, the concerned citizen (yours truly), announced the creation of Petaluma NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams). This team model included, a Team Leader (or “Sparkplug”), at least three graduates from a CERT course (Community Emergency Response Team), the creation of a Neighborhood Watch Group and a neighborhood electronic conference board. In addition, there would also be a licensed amateur radio operator (Ham) living in the area.

Fast forward from 2005 to 2010 and you will discover that there are about dozen neighborhood areas that have an active licensed radio operator who is capable of self-activation in the event of a mega-disaster and transmit emergency traffic on the Petaluma NERT Net to either an East Side or a West Side Net Control Center, and eventually the City’s EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and a radio room staffed by ACS volunteers.

Petaluma NERT volunteers have also incorporated the use of FRS (unlicensed) radios into its community emergency radio network (CERN), and has conducted two annual city-wide field exercises that involved CERT volunteers from all six Police Zones. A third drill will take place during the “Great California ShakeOut,”on October 21st, that will self-activate NERT Net  Hams at the neighborhood level. An orientation HELP workshop has been scheduled for this Saturday, from 9:00 a.m.-Noon, at the Petaluma Senior Center, 211 Novak Avenue. Any licensed Ham in the 94952 or 94954 zip code areas is welcomed to participate. In order to learn more about this opportunity, contact Bill Hammerman at 762-6593 or whammer@petalumanet.org