Kenai Peninsula tests new communications system following Nov. 30th earthquake

A Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) checks in with a Kenai resident during a mock...
A Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) checks in with a Kenai resident during a mock evacuation scenario. (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 14, 2019 at 11:11 AM AKDT
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Over the last week, boroughs and cities across the state participated in Alaska Shield 2019, a series of drills testing emergency response preparedness.

After the Nov. 30th earthquake, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management learned it needed a better communications system to relay information to the public.

“Some of the gaps that we learned from the Nov. 30th earthquake was the coordination between our cities,” KPB Emergency Manager Dan Nelson said, “specifically, communications.”

The borough’s solution to fill those gaps in emergency communications, Nelson said, is a new system that can disseminate information to thousands almost instantly via texts or calls to landlines.

“KPB Alerts is a new system that we’ve rolled out since that time that has vastly improved our ability to call or text homeowners or residents in our immediate area,” he said.

Nelson said the KPB Alerts system was used to notify residents of a mock evacuation scenario that happened on Saturday. Volunteers for KPB's Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) went door-to-door, testing resident's responses to the new-and-improved notification system.

Linell McCrumb of Inlet Drive in Kenai said it made her feel a sense of security when the CERT team knocked on her door.

“It gives you kind of a sense of ease knowing that there is a system set up, and someone will be able to provide information if residents can’t otherwise access it,“ McCrumb said.

Bryce Choate of Kenai was the CERT team leader for the residential sweep on Inlet Drive.

“Just trying to help out my community as best as I can," Choate said. "Any way that I can get in and help, I love it."

Bud Sexton, community planner with the KPB OEM, worked with the CERT teams during Kenai’s Alaska Shield Training. He said Alaska Shield happens every three years, and the KPB OEM always participates.

“We always remind our residents to be prepared,” Bud Sexton said. “In Alaska, we know that emergencies happen all the time. Here on the Kenai Peninsula, we are no different.“

After the door-to-door notification to area residents of the hypothetical evacuation, CERT and OEM set up a mock shelter at Kenai Middle School. That's where Kenai families would actually go in the event of an evacuation to receive food, water and shelter.

Zach Stockton, an 18 year-old CERT volunteer from Kenai, said the evacuation drill prepared citizens to respond in a real-world situation.

"I think it went super well," Stockton said about the mock evacuation. "It prepared us and the citizens on how to respond accordingly in a real-world aspect."

Stockton trained as a CERT when he was 15, during the Kenai’s last Alaska Shield testing. He said he learned to provide aid in emergency shelters – he has basic emergency medical skills to assist in triage, and knows exactly how to react during an evacuation.

He said he volunteered for CERT because the Kenai, like the rest of Alaska, is vulnerable to natural disasters. He wants to help members of his community to safety in the event of an emergency.

“The chance of it happening is a lot higher,” Stockton said. “I think people like me who are younger and able to get out and do stuff that people who are older might not be able to do -- it’s important that we can get out there and help out.”