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'Quakeville' has surprise 'missing person' search

Saturday night simulation triggers search-and-rescue drill not announced in advance

Mike Kenniston of San Jose wandered off in the middle of the night at Juana Briones Park in the name of disaster preparedness -- becoming a "missing person" and triggering an all-out search.

A Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member, Kenniston ventured up to Palo Alto for the first ever "Quakeville" disaster preparedness event Saturday night and Sunday morning (Sept. 11 and 12).

Kenniston agreed to pretend to get lost and injured so participants could practice in case a real disaster happened.

Only "Quakeville" organizer Lydia Kou, Bob Sikora, Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activities (PANDA) incident commander and Kenniston's wife Rosemary and 9-year-old twin daughters Bei and Bao knew about the simulated search and rescue.

"It's like when you were in the play at school," Rosemary said to her daughters, who were initially nervous about their missing father.

Kou and the Kennistons then made their way through the more than 20 tents at the site to warn Jeanne Chisholm, block preparedness coordinator (BPC), of the missing person. Most of the families continued with their relaxing night of conversations and card games, but volunteers wearing orange vests with the lettering "BPC" took action.

Chisholm called out over her walkie-talkie with the information of the Kenniston's absence.

Only when another BPC officer, Daniel Lilienstein, asked if the report was a drill, did anyone in the camp realize that the search was set up. But this did not stop anyone from acting professional and following procedures.

Lilienstein asked, "How long has he been gone?" and "When was he last seen?" Chisholm acquired a physical description of Kenniston from his family members.

"Those of us who are volunteering here at 'Quakeville' are using the event as important training in case real disaster strikes," Lilienstein said.

Then, the information was relayed over radio from Lilienstein over to Sikora at the PANDA station. PANDA set up a station at the event to coordinate any help that people might need at "Quakeville" and inform people of what to do during an earthquake.

"This event forces us to think about things that we haven't thought about before," Sikora said.

Sikora then delegated information and assignments to volunteers to help in the efforts to find Kenniston. Search parties were sent to patrol the borders of the park with flashlights.

After 20 minutes, Kou's voice came over the radio: "We have located a man behind the bridge and an oak tree. He has a slight injury."

The Palo Alto Fire Department Explorers responded to the call. The Explorers are a group of high school students who train in first-response techniques at Fire Station #6 on the Stanford University campus for community service, Gunn High School senior Nicola Park explains.

"We are here just in case anything happens," said Justin Grey, an Explorer and junior at Palo Alto High School.

The Explorers administered First Aid techniques such as taking blood pressure and completing a quick diagnosis of Kenniston's "injury."

The 9-year-old twin girls kept shouting that the injury wasn't real, but the Explorer's continued with their procedure.

"We have to let them work," Kenniston said to his daughters. "It is important practice."

The Explorers helped carry Kenniston back to camp and the drill was complete. Kou said she was happy with the results of the simulation.

"We ran the whole thing from start to finish, so now we have a protocol," she said.

Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt set up a tent at "Quakeville" and even though he did not participate in the search-and-rescue procedure he said he considered the event a success.

"I wouldn't be surprised if other cities in the area will learn from us and do one of these, too," he said.

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