East Bay agencies team up to test-run emergency systems

Emergency first responders in Lafeyette, Orinda and Morage ran a test of their emergency communication systems; they wanted to make sure, in the event of emergency, people are kept safe.

Fire Station 45 of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District along Orinda Way served as the mock communications hub Saturday morning. Crews played pretend - reacting to a growing wildfire hypothetically approaching the Orinda Hills.

"We know we're a vulnerable community," said Dennis Rein. He is the emergency preparedness coordinator for the fire district.

"Our priority is to protect life and the easiest way to do that is for folks to evacuate. That allows first responders to get in and protect their property."

The morning started with an emergency alert - 40,000 messages went out to people who live in the Lamorinda region of the East Bay. If you received the alert, that means you're in a good spot should an emergency situation rise.

"It's so important because you get everyone involved," said Julie Sparks, who is part of the Lamorinda Critical Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

"You get the whole community feel. It's important because it allows first responders to work with each other across multiple agencies and we get to know everyone who is involved in the exercise."

If you didn't get the alert, consider that a problem. Officials say this exercise is a good reminder to sign up for all forms of alert notifications, including Contra Costa County's Community Warning System.

When it comes to evacuations, personnel trained on a system called Zonehaven, a program already in use and endorsed by the Moraga Police Department.

"My junior patrol officer at the time was able to use this system and it took him about two minutes to order an evacuation of an entire neighborhood just simply by identifying the zone that it was and communicating it to the communications warning system, which then broadcast the warning to the neighborhood," said Jon King, police chief for the city of Moraga."

It's training, speficially applied to a simulated fire incident, but officials say what crews learn in the exercise can help in any kind of emergency event.

"It can happen here anytime," said Sparks. "Today we're practicing for a wildfire, tomorrow it could be an earthquake simulation."