Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Victim Actors Needed: CERT Final Exercise, Saturday, November 15

We need victim actors for the upcoming Fairfax County CERT graduation final exercise!

Victim actors show off their wound makeup from the Spring 2014 final exercise. All photos: Joe Loong.

Victims actors play an important role in CERT training. Wearing realistic wound makeup and role-playing as disaster survivors, victim actors help CERT responders practice their skills on real, live human beings in a realistic, stressful, simulated mass casualty incident.

Who Can Be a Victim? Anyone 16 years of age or older. All physical abilities are welcome. Perfect for drama classes, students needing community service hours, retired persons, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and anyone interested in disasters.

When: Saturday, November 15, 2014, from around 7AM-2PM

Where: The Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Lorton Training Site, located at the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center in Lorton, Virginia.

Victim Actor Requirements: 
  • 16 years of age or older
  • Must wear closed-toe shoes (no flip-flops, Crocs, sandals, etc) 
  • Should dress in clothes appropriate for the weather and that you don't mind messing up with fake blood, etc. 
  • Will need to sign a waiver 
We will make you up in moulage (simulated wound makeup) and give you symptoms to role-play. When the exercise is over, we'll feed you lunch. 
To Sign Up: Please send email to

Info for Victim Actors

About the Lorton Training Site

The Lorton Training Site is located at the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), part of the Lorton prison complex that closed in 2001.

While parts of the adult prison have been transformed into an art center, the JDC site has been beaten up for years by the elements and the first responders who train there, making it the perfect place for a disaster simulation.

Views of the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center.

Moulage (Wound Makeup)

After checking in, victim actors will be given a set of injuries that they'll get to role-play, with moulage (wound makeup) to match. Simulated injuries can range from mild cuts and bruises, to major injuries like severe lacerations, compound fractures, impalements, and even amputations! (If you don't want to get too messy, you can request lighter injuries... although many folks feel that getting gory fake injuries is part of the fun!)

Victim actors sport a variety of simulated injuries that rescuers will have to treat.

Our moulage team will use makeup, fake blood, latex and silicone appliances, and props to help you get into character and give a convincing performance.

You'll also get some symptoms to act out. The rest is up to you: You can portray a stoic survivor, or you can role-play someone who's dazed, distraught, disoriented, or in shock. Check out this victim actor's performance:

What Happens Next...

After a safety briefing, you'll be moved into position on the training site. The exercise will begin... but the disaster area has multiple buildings over a wide area, and search and rescue teams will first need to find you!

While you wait, exercise controllers will make sure you stay warm and hydrated, and they'll tell you when rescuers get within hearing distance, so you'll know when to start acting and crying for help (if your simulated injuries allow you to cry for help, of course).

A victim actor with a simulated hand amputation waits for CERT rescue teams to find him.

If they follow their training, CERT rescuers will find you, assess your condition, and tag you according to the severity of your simulated injuries... all under the watchful eye of exercise controllers and evaluators.

CERT rescuers splint a simulated leg injury.

You'll receive some quick treatment in the field. If you have minor simulated injuries, you may even be able to walk out with your CERT rescuers. Otherwise, you may have to wait for rescuers to transport you to the medical area for more comprehensive care.

A CERT rescue team carries a victim actor out of a building and to the medical area.

After the end of the exercise is called, we'll serve lunch, and you'll get to swap stories with CERT rescuers, staffers, and your fellow victim actors.

Sound like fun? It is, and it's a unique way to spend a Saturday morning!

Sign Up to Be a Victim Actor Now by emailing

Monday, October 13, 2014

Looking in on Fairfax County CERT Class 87 in McLean

Last week, Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue, noted that we hit a milestone, with over 100 people currently in training to become Fairfax County CERTs.

Hitting 100 was only possible because we don't just train CERTs at the Fire and Rescue Academy; instructors train CERTs at locations throughout Fairfax County. Currently, we've got Classes 85 and 86 being held at the Fire Academy, Class 87 in McLean, and Class 88 in Burke. By providing CERT classes where people live, we help increase awareness of CERT and make it easier for people all over the county to take CERT training.

(If your community group can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, we'll send instructors to your location, free! If you're interested, please email for more info.)

Peeking in on Class 87

I got the chance to help out with the second class of Fairfax County CERT Class 87, most of whose members heard about the training through the McLean Citizen Association.

For seven weeks, CERT 87 is meeting at the Old Firehouse Teen Center in McLean. As the name suggests, it's a former firehouse in the heart of McLean that's been converted into a teen center, complete with murals, a disco ball, and a checkerboard dance floor.

Instructor Mike Forgy teaches CERT students in front of Saturn. All photos: Joe Loong

Although the decor is a little funky, the curriculum is pure CERT. On this night, students were learning about Disaster Management and the CERT way of doing things, including determining rescue priorities; the CALMeR method of organization (Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, Rescue); and the SAFE priorities for rescue (Survey scene, Attach tags, Fix life-threats, Extricate victims).

After the lecture, CERT students geared up and went through a round-robin of demonstrations for each of the CALMeR functions, to learn more about the role each part plays in incident response.

I was demonstrating the functions of Rescue, starting with showing how to properly mark a building, then leading the students on a lap of the teen center, showing safe search techniques and pointing out potential hazards they might face in a disaster situation.

Although it's different from being in a burn building at the Fire Academy, training in the community shows students the realism of responding to disasters in real places where real people live, work, and play.

Snapshots of Class 87 Members

I asked a few of the members of Class 87 why they were taking CERT training. Here are their responses:

Name: Darren Ewing

Occupation: Financial Advisor

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Darren, who's active with the McLean Citizens Association, has deep roots in Fairfax County and wants to be able to help and give back to the community, and do something for the greater good.
Name: Maria Booth

Occupation: Technical Recruiter

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Maria, taking the class along with her husband, heard about the class through the McLean Community Center's newsletter, and thought that CERT training would give her good information to help her family and neighbors in case of emergency.

Name: Sam Shanker (left) and Thomas Shanker (right)

Occupation: College student and news editor, respectively.

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Sam, a student at Middlebury College, had CERT training recommended to him, and thought it would be something good to do for the community. His father Thomas, an editor with the New York Times, is active in the community and wanted to take the CERT training to increase the safety of the community.

Remember, if your community group can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, we'll send instructors to your location, free! If you're interested, please email  for more info.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fairfax County CERTs Trigger Zombie Outbreak at NVCC Annandale

The United States government wants people to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, with their alleged reason being that if people are prepared for zombies, they're prepared for any disaster.   
Blood-spattered zombie on the NVCC Annandale campus. All photos by Donna Hosek (except where noted)

Whether you believe this is sound advice, or merely a cover story for an inevitable zombie outbreak masquerading as sound advice, we know that zombies catch people's attention and imagination, and can spur them to take preparedness measures in a way that warnings about more "mundane" disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes might not.

With this in mind, Northern Virginia Community College's (NVCC) Annandale campus enlisted the Fairfax County CERT Moulage (wound makeup) Team to provide zombie makeup for actors raising preparedness awareness on campus.

Moulage Lead Susy Ledgerwood applies zombie makeup to a participant.

Under the guidance of CERT Volunteer Instructor and Moulage Lead Susy Ledgerwood, the moulage team did its homework on the types of zombie makeup seen in popular shows like The Walking Dead and Dawn of the Dead, then adapted the supplies in their moulage kits (normally used to simulate injuries suffered by disaster victims) to create realistic zombie effects.

The results speak for themselves:

Once made up, the zombies shuffled across campus to participate in activities designed to raise awareness for National Preparedness Month.

In addition, members of the Fairfax County CERT Outreach team set up a booth to give participants and onlookers preparedness information, including how to build 72-hour emergency kits and develop disaster communication plans.

CERT Gary Nisker at the CERT Outreach booth at the NVCC Zombie Day event. Photo: Char Silberstein
CERT Outreach Lead Char Silberstein reports that they were nearly overrun by NVCC staff and students interested in learning more about the free preparedness and disaster response training offered by Fairfax County CERT.

With zombies still at the forefront of popular culture, and with Halloween fast approaching, CERT organizations looking to help raise awareness for preparedness might want to consider jumping on the zombie bandwagon and using their moulage skills to promote their CERT programs.

For more photos and videos from the campus zombie invasion, check out the Northern Virginia Community College Facebook page.

Update -- September 26: The zombie outbreak widened on Thursday, this time striking the Loudoun Campus of NVCC. Once again, Susy and Ginny of the Fairfax County CERT Moulage Team were on the scene. A reporter from FOX 5 DC captured video of the zombie invasion:

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Step Up to the Mic: Amateur (Ham) Radio Training Classes Starting September 30

CERTs (and friends): Volunteer Liaison Jeffrey Katz passes along two low-cost opportunities for you to get your amateur radio (ham) license from two area amateur radio clubs, both starting September 30 -- one in Alexandria and one in Manassas. (Skip to the class info.)

An amateur radio setup during an annual Field Day event. Photo: Joe Loong.
Why should CERTs get involved with amateur radio?  We've seen time and time again that in major disasters where regular communications networks are disrupted, hams are often the only reliable way of getting messages through.

Amateur radio communications are also useful managing large-scale events, where you need something more powerful and with more frequency bands than a Family Radio Service (FRS) radio.

There's a natural cross-connect between hams and CERTs, with many folks getting involved in one program and then learning about the other. (I'm one of them: WWW4JOE reporting in.)

You don't need to own any equipment, and you won't need to learn Morse code. See the links below for more information:

The Classes:

Where: Alexandria Police Department Headquarters, Community Room, 3600 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, VA
When: Weekly, 7-9PM starting Tuesday, Sept. 30 through Dec. 2.
Cost: $50 (includes books and exam fee)
More Information and Registration: See the web site or call 703.969.6615 or email Rich Adamy at
Sponsored by: Alexandria Radio Club

Where: City of Manassas Public Works Facility, 8500 Public Works Drive, Manassas, VA
When: Weekly, 7-9PM starting Tuesday, Sept. 30 (Four sessions: 9/30, 10/7, 10/14, 10/28)
Cost: Free (but students must provide own course materials [$30 + shipping] and exam fee [$15])
More Information and Registration: Contact Mark Braunstein,
Sponsored by: The Ole Virginia Hams Amateur Radio Club

Register for the classes now and get on the air in 2014!

-- 73 -- 

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fairfax County CERT 85 and 86: First Class

This week, the nearly 70 students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team Classes 85 and 86 got their first taste of what it means to be a CERT.

Meeting in Classroom 1 of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy, the students learned about potential disaster threats in northern Virginia, and what the CERT program prepares them for: Doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people in a disaster.

Lead Instructor Steve Willey goes over the purpose and guiding principals of CERT. All photos by Joe Loong, CERT Class 45.
The CERTs of Class 85 also received their issue of CERT gear -- the green backpacks containing protective helmets, vests, pry bars, lights, and other materials they'll be using throughout the rest of the course. (The CERTs of Class 86 will get their gear next week.)

CERT Class 85 students go through their newly issued CERT gear.
Over the next six weeks, CERT students will learn how to safely size up and manage disaster scenes; how to treat and triage injured victims; perform light search and rescue; put out small fires using fire extinguishers; and much more.

Steve Willey in front of the CERTs of Class 86.

The CERT students were also given an exercise -- the details of which I won't reveal, to preserve the element of surprise -- that tested their leadership skills, teamwork, and ability to adapt in the face of ambiguous, ever-changing, and often contradictory requirements.

Confusion reigns during the "Tower exercise."
Who Takes the CERT Training, and Why?

As the CERT students introduced themselves, it was clear that they were a diverse group. There were married couples; former and active-duty Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard members; accountants; defense contractors; government procurement officers; nurses; retirees; and more. Some had prior disaster and disaster response experiences; others had none.

Here's a snapshot of some of the members of the new Fairfax County CERT classes:

Class 85

Name: Mike Cerino

Occupation: US Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal Technician, retired

Reason for Taking CERT Training: A self-described disaster prepper type, Mike learned about the CERT program from a prepper friend in Washington state. Aware of the threat from terrorism and other disasters, Mike knows from his prepping that you can't do everything yourself, and that you need to build a network of people for mutual self-help, with which he hopes CERT will help.
Name: Heather Selzer

Occupation: Healthcare Attorney

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Heather, learned about CERT from a friend, though is no stranger to volunteering and preparedness. She's an American Red Cross CPR, AED, and First Aid Instructor Trainer, and helped out with the metropolitan New York area's response after the September 11 attacks.
Name: Anne Monroe

Occupation: Office Manager

Reason for Taking CERT Training: In her professional role, Anne has had training in crisis and mass casualty response. She learned about CERT through a co-worker, and wants to gain extra skills, which she notes are good to have.
Name: Mike Dow

Occupation: Information Technology

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Mike also has experience with volunteering and disaster response skills, having previously volunteered with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and American Red Cross. He wants to build his skills in case another incident occurs. Mike, like others in the class, learned about CERT from an emergency communications course from his amateur radio association.

Class 86

Name: Reecie Ford

Occupation: Accountant

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Reecie is attending along with her husband Kent, who works in the emergency management field. The Fords are taking the course so they can better help out in their neighborhood, which includes a number of senior citizens that they'd like to be able to assist in a disaster.
Name: Lynnette Morales

Occupation: Mom

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Lynnette would like to be able to better help her family, which includes several young children, in the event of an emergency. She learned about CERT through a posting on her community's Facebook page.
Name: Jim Peña

Occupation: Cybersecurity contractor

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Aware of recent manmade and natural disasters, Jim wants to be able to better help for the next one. Jim learned about CERT from a neighbor, and he also knows Fairfax County CERT's resident moulage expert, Susy.
We'll try to check in on our CERT classes as they go through their training, and introduce you to more CERTs from classes 85 and 86.

The next opportunity to take CERT training starts October 9 at the Burke Conservancy. Click for more information and registration.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outreach Roundup: September 11, 2014

First off, on this September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, let's take a moment to say we'll never forget, and always prepare.

Welcome to the Fairfax County CERT Outreach Roundup, where we highlight recent Outreach activities and point out opportunities for you to get involved with events in the next 30-60 days (and beyond)!

Upcoming Outreach Events

We're going to flip the script, as we have some urgent needs that popped up for CERTs to help at Outreach events, where we help our community be more prepared for disasters and encourage them to take Fairfax County CERT training.

For more information and to volunteer for an event, click the volunteer management system (VMS) sign-up link (where available) or email

Saturday, Sept. 13: Pimmit Hills Day -- we really need 1-2 CERTs to staff an Outreach table at this family-friendly event at Olney Park in the Falls Church area. 10:30AM-4:30PM. Sign-up: Outreach Lead.

Wednesday, Sept. 24: NVCC Zombie Preparedness Day -- Zombies invade the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College to raise awareness for National Preparedness Month. The CERT Moulage team will be doing the zombie makeup, and we need 1-2 more CERTs to spread the word about preparedness and CERT. 10:30AM-2:00PM. Sign-up: Outreach Lead.

Saturday, Sept. 27: National Public Lands Day -- NPLD is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. Volunteers at the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area in Lorton will be helping repair Hidden Pond Trail and clear the pond's bank. 2-3 CERTs are needed to staff an Outreach booth. 9:00AM-12:00 noon. Click to sign up.

(In addition, there's an Operational role for CERTs to help out as medical observers.)

Oct. 4-5: Fall for Fairfax Kidsfest -- Many CERTs are needed for the Outreach booth at this popular kid-focused event at the Fairfax County Government Center. The event runs from 10AM-7PM Saturday; 10AM-5PM Sunday. Multiple CERTs needed for each of the three shifts on Saturday and two shifts on Sunday. Click to sign up for one or more shifts.

Oct. 11: Fire Prevention Week, Fire Station Open Houses -- Team Leader and event staffer positions still available! This is a big one; we need CERTs to staff Outreach tables at fire stations all around Fairfax County. The more CERTs we can get, the better. Sign-up: Outreach Lead (VMS link pending)

Outreach Recap

The highlight of our Outreach efforts was the Ready-Set-Know! Fairfax County Disaster Preparedness Expo at last weekend's Burke Centre Festival.

Organized by CERT's own James Sobecke (wearing his Citizen Corps Council hat), the event highlighted disaster preparedness and featured volunteers from Fairfax County CERT, American Red Cross, Medical Reserve Corps, Volunteer Fairfax, and the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management.

American Red Cross's Marco Johnson and Fairfax County CERT's James Sobecke help a festivalgoer in disaster wound makeup at the Wheel of Disaster. Photo: Tracy Friend, Volunteer Fairfax.
In addition to promoting CERT, CERTs worked with other volunteers to help show people how to build a 72-hour emergency kit and develop a family disaster plan. Photo: Adam Samuels.
A highlight of the event was free disaster makeup done by the Moulage team for attendees of all ages:

The disaster makeup table was popular all weekend. Over 400 visitors received fake wounds. Photo: Joe Loong.
Festival attendee before and after he gets his fake wound. Photo: Joe Loong.
Over the course of the weekend-long festival, CERTs helped reach over 2,000 attendees, helping them increase their preparedness, and encouraging them to take CERT training (including the CERT Class 88 training starting October 9 at the Burke Conservancy.)

More Highlights

Other Outreach activities were on a slightly smaller scale, but no less important:

* CERTs Jonathan Kiell, Gary Nisker, and Adam Samuels staffed a table at the Fort Belvoir Defense Logistics Agency Preparedness Fair on September 4, generating a great deal of interest and a possible future CERT training class:

DLA employees were very receptive to the CERT message. Photo: Jonathan Kiell

* CERTs participated in the Springfield BridgeWalk on August 26, staffing an Outreach booth and participating in the march:

Jeff McKay, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, shakes hands with Fairfax County CERTs during the 2014 BridgeWalk. Photo: Linda Waller, Office of Supervisor Jeffrey C. McKay.
* On National Night Out (the first Tuesday in August), several CERTs (including Donna Hosek and her son, a frequent CERT victim actor) helped teach their neighbors about CERT:

CERT display at the Middleridge National Night Out activities. Photo: Donna Hosek
For more information about these events or any other Outreach activities, please email the Outreach team at Thanks, and we hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Char Silberstein is Outreach Lead for Fairfax County CERT. You can email her at

Friday, September 5, 2014

What to Expect Your First Night of Fairfax County CERT Training

Next week marks the beginning of Fairfax County CERT's Fall 2014 classes at the Fire Academy. Class 85 is Monday nights, Class 86 is Wednesday nights. (In addition, we'll have two more Fall CERT classes at locations in the community: Vienna and Burke. Stay tuned for more details.)

Before Your First Class
When you've registered for CERT training, you'll get a welcome email from Lead Instructor Steve Willey. Please read it carefully, as it tells you what you'll learn and gives you directions to the Fire Academy, a class syllabus, some forms, and a list of what you'll need to bring, including:
  • Work gloves (we recommend mechanic-style gloves that fit well)
  • Latex or equivalent exam gloves (you'll use a bunch over the course of the training)
  • Two rolls of quality gray duct tape
  • Retractable black Sharpie magic marker
  • Government-issued photo ID
  • The completed forms
  • An empty 3-inch three-ring binder (to hold your class materials)
Stuff you'll need on your first night of CERT class: work gloves, duct tape, exam gloves, retractable Sharpie. Not pictured: Government-issued photo ID, a 3-inch three-ring binder, and your completed forms.
Items you shouldn't bring to class include any form of tobacco product (this also means e-cigs), sandals, flip-flops, or any form of open-toed shoe.

For clothing, wear weather-appropriate clothes you don't mind getting dirty -- there are locker rooms at the Academy where you can change.

Knowing Is Half the Battle
Although there are plenty of hands-on activities, CERT training is largely about knowledge and mindset. Before the class starts (or as soon as you can after) we recommend you take the free, online independent study course, FEMA IS-317: Introduction to CERT.

The course will give you an overview of CERT and a firm foundation to build on, but it's not a substitute for class. In class, you'll also get real-world examples of how things work (and don't work) in the field from instructors who've "been there, done that." Plus, you'll go through exercises and activities, like searching buildings, carrying patients, and putting out small fires.

A word about those activities: CERT training is for all ages and abilities. You don't have to do anything you're not capable or comfortable doing. So don't worry -- it's not boot camp.

Get to Class on Time!
Classes begin promptly at 7pm. Especially if you're not familiar with the facility, give yourself time to get through traffic in Fairfax, find the Academy (if you're heading south on West Ox Road, it's after the Fairfax County Animal Shelter -- make a right at the blue sign just after the school bus parking lot), and find parking.

The second of two blue signs marking the Fire and Rescue Academy.
Also, class runs from 7pm to 10:30pm. For real -- there's a lot of learning to cover. Some nights you might end a bit earlier or a bit later. For breaks, the Academy has vending machines and a kitchenette.

About the Fire Academy
Like we say, CERTs who train at the Fire Academy train in the same place as Fairfax County Fire & Rescue personnel. Some nights, there may be firefighters and EMTs training in adjacent classrooms, in the High Bay (the big garage), or in one of the nearby burn buildings.

Also note that construction on the brand-new Academy expansion is just about finished. You'll be taking your CERT training in the classroom area in the "old" part of the building, usually Classroom 1.

To get to the classroom area, you'll typically park in the parking lot (by the big satellite dishes and antenna), walk in through the High Bay, and walk down the hallways until you find it (which is filled with displays gifted by previous  firefighter and EMT training classes).

The Gear
At your first class, you'll receive gear including a CERT backpack, helmet, reflective vest, crowbar, kneepads, headlamp, N95 dust mask, and other items you'll use in training (including that very same night).

Members of CERT Class 83 try on their gear on their first class.
Although not required, many CERTs choose to supplement their gear, buying items to better suit their needs.

Other Stuff
Your syllabus will cover the subject matter you'll learn each week. Each week will build on what you've learned previously, so it's important that you attend every class.

In addition to what you learn in the classroom, as you progress in class, you'll do things like conduct searches in a burn building:

Towards the end of training, you'll have a chance to put out a small fire with a fire extinguisher:

And eventually, you'll end with a final exercise, where you'll put everything you've learned together, in a realistic simulation, complete with victim actors (note that you're responsible for recruiting at least two victim actors):

Other than that, pay attention to your instructors, ask questions, and have fun! If you have any questions about Fairfax County CERT training, you can ask in the comments or email me at the address below.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at