When members from various Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) from across Northern California gathered for a training exercise at the Alameda County Fairgrounds recently, a small group of observers there to watch the drills stood out. Most of the group of nine were wearing shirts with the word, ‘Sweden’ across the front.
“We’re excited to be here and learn a lot about the Urban Shield exercise,” said the group’s organizer, Tove Frykmer.
Frykmer, a PhD student at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, spent six months as a visiting scholar at the University of California in Berkley. It was during those six months stateside she first heard about Urban Shield, a training exercise involving local, national, and international first responder agencies. She went back to her home country and immediately began plans to bring a group back to the states in time to observe as many Urban Shield exercises as possible.
“I collected a group of nine Swedes,” Frykmer said. “It’s very diverse. We have two fire and rescue service folks. We have two policemen. We have one from the Swedish Armed Forces. We have one person from the Swedish FEMA and two representing the cities and counties in Sweden. ”
Watching And Learning
On this day, the Swedish delegation spent the afternoon watching CERT team members practice search and rescue drills. They also spent the day talking with the dozens of law enforcement and first responders on hand.
“In the recent disasters we’ve had, we’ve seen that volunteers are the first ones to the scene in many cases and they’re the ones that are doing those roles that professional responders otherwise would be,” said Nathan Rainey with the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services.
“We hope to learn how you develop an organized incident command system,” Frykmer explained. “We’re also interested in learning if you have the same problems and issues in crisis management that we have in Sweden. We hope to learn how you handle things and also to create this network to meet people from different organizations here and maybe bring some contacts back to Sweden.”
California is known for having one of the best mutual aid systems in the world, so it’s not uncommon for other countries to use the emergency programs here as a model.
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that you have a very organized system in California with the standardized emergency management system and the mutual aid agreement,” said Frykmer. “In Sweden we work more on the next door municipality. You have some agreements but in general it’s not as organized. That’s a big difference between us and you here in California. ”