KAHULUI - Maui County authorities put at least a year of practice together Saturday for a Civil Defense exercise that simulated a real disaster.
Teams of trained police, firefighters, medics, trauma psychologists and community volunteers gathered on the campus of Maui High School to act out how they would respond if and when a major hurricane struck.
Officials monitored the performance of the professionals, who worked alongside members of the Maui Community Emergency Response Team. CERT is made up of "willing and able" community members who undergo at least 30 hours of medical and emergency training, said exercise director Alan Pascua.
CERT volunteer Grant Wolf snuffs a fire during a disaster preparedness training exercise Saturday morning at Maui High School.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
CERT is always looking for more volunteers, said Lee Mainaga, Maui Fire Department fire services chief.
There are CERT teams strategically placed in Central Maui, Kihei, Lahaina and Upcountry.
"This is the culmination of our year's work," said Mainaga.
If something big goes down, first the volunteers are taught to secure the safety of their own families, then they contact one another via a phone and email tree. If communications are knocked out, they meet at a pre-established rendezvous point, such as a church.
"It's really exciting, and it's also about being prepared and wanting to save your neighbors," said schoolteacher Andi Christi of the Upcountry team.
"When it hits the fan, they will need people like us to search, find and rescue people while the authorities take on the bigger challenges," Christi said.
Christi is originally from New York City, and her father helped design the World Trade Center.
"It was actually the older people in my neighborhood who told me, 'You go and take the class so you can save us,' " said Christi as she cooled down in the school's gym. "It gets your blood pumping. I was so excited last night I couldn't sleep."
In front of her, a third of the gym was littered with "bodies," as volunteers played the parts of the dead and wounded.
In addition to more than 40 CERT volunteers, the day had 45 mock victims, 66 observers, 25 firefighters, five medics and eight Maui Police Department officers.
The day started at 7:30 a.m. with a radio transmission launching the drill. Soon after, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters dropped critical supplies at the site.
Each team or department had to undergo a series of missions, such as search and rescue, triage, counseling, firefighting, communications and family preparedness.
One of their first challenges was to perform house-to-house searches. On the exterior of each building on the large campus were images by the Pacific Disaster Center showing light to heavy damage. The teams then had to determine if it was safe enough, or worth the effort, to go inside for survivors.
Once inside, they sometimes had to extract dummies pinned beneath heavy weights - or decide whether the person was too far gone to save.
Overseeing it all from a rolling command post was Pascua, a retired assistant chief of the Maui Fire Department.
"It went well to the T," said Pascua, who said his greatest challenge was staying at his radio post and not "getting my boots on the ground."
Participants included American Medical Response, Maui County Civil Defense Agency, Maui Job Corps, Maui Food Bank, Salvation Army, American Red Cross and the state Department of Health.
Veronika Lui, 20, understands the chaos of a natural disaster. The AmeriCorps member with aspirations of becoming a chef had emergency training before and put it to use in 2009 during the tsunami in her native America Samoa.
Some distant relatives died, she said. On Saturday, she had to pretend she had a broken wrist and continue to help others.
"Being prepared is so important," she said. "I can't say enough about safety."
For more information about CERT, call 270-7276.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.