Birch Bay Waterslides the site of emergency drill

By Stefanie Donahue

Last week, Birch Bay Waterslides was the site of an emergency response simulation that prompted a team of locals to rescue and revive victims of a 9.0 earthquake.

A team of CERT program participants gather at the base of Birch Bay Waterslides to discuss their emergency response plan during a drill on June 2. The crew was tasked with responding to a 9.0 earthquake. Photo by Stefanie Donahue.

The drill was one of many hosted in Whatcom County through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, which stands to inform members of the public about how to respond and prepare for a disaster.

The latest program was offered for eight weeks from April 14 to June 2 at the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue service station 63, located in Birch Bay.

On June 2, 17 program participants completed the final basic training exercise, which tasked the crew with responding to 15 victims of all ages that had been impacted by the severe earthquake.

“I want to see that they are going to put things together,” said CERT instructor Crystal Barlean as she monitored volunteers searching for on-site medical supplies. “They may have to hunt and peck,” she said. Eventually the team found the box of items CERT staff had stored away just for the occasion and attempted to rescue more than a dozen people from the scene.

During the eight-session program, participants learn a slew of emergency response skills, including those pertaining to disaster preparedness, fire safety, triage, search and rescue, disaster psychology and more before they participate in the emergency response simulation.

“People who go through CERT training have a better understanding of the potential threats to their home, workplace and community and can take the right steps to lessen the effects of these hazards on themselves, their homes or workplace,” reads the program description. “If a disaster happens that overwhelms local response capability, CERT members can apply the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to give critical support to their family, loved ones, neighbors or associates in their immediate area until help arrives.”

The program started in 1999 and has since graduated more than 1,000 students. About a third of those who completed basic training remain active by volunteering at various classes and community exercises. To date, the basic training course has hundreds on the waitlist, said Whatcom County CERT coordinator Greg Hope.

Individuals as young as 12 can enroll in the program, with parental consent. Class sizes range between 12 to 24 people and the cost to attend is $50 for all eight sessions. To learn more, visit

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