Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fairfax County CERTs and DELMARVA SAR Hit the Rubble Pile in CERTEX 2014

[Editor's note: Over the weekend, Fairfax County CERTs participated in CERTEX 2014, an urban search and rescue (SAR) training exercise for CERTs conducted by DELMARVA SAR. CERT Carlos Santiso, Class 73, shares his recap and photos. Plus, don't miss the CERT's-eye view video from CERT Nabil Gharbieh, Class 79, also included below.]
​​CERTEX 2014: An Urban Search and Rescue Exercise for CERT Members Conducted by DELMARVA SAR
The training description on the Fairfax County Volunteer Management System listing read:

"T​his highly sought after event is an advanced urban search and rescue exercise. The objective is to provide a positive and challenging environment for CERTs to sharpen and advance their skills.

It is a physically demanding training exercise for those who opt to challenge the rubble pile, involving the search, location, and extraction of victims trapped in the debris field.​"​

So we thought it would be an interesting way to spend a Sunday. We are well trained; we know what to do in cases like these. We have experience.​​

It was a very good decision. We met a very well-trained SAR team in charge of the event, who set up the scenario: We had to find many subjects (they don't call them victims) in the rubble pile. We didn't know how many, nor where they were.
CERTs work with DELMARVA SAR instructors on the rubble pile. All photos by Carlos Santiso.
Once we found subjects, we would then perform triage, which we learned is different than ours, and finish with the extrication of every found subject.

Some​ ​were​ less difficult than others... bu​​t​ ​none of them were easy.
CERTs work to get a subject out of a concrete tube.
Horizontal pipes... OK. But vertical pipes? Come on! We never did that at the Academy or in Lorton...
CERTs under the guidance of SAR instructors extricate a subject.

We performed​ that operation 3 times, switching roles, using our radios and their rescue equipment, and under their supervision and guidance.


Video by Nabil Gharbieh, Class 79.]

After the second iteration we had a much-needed break (as you can see below):

CERTs take a breather.

Then another killer: At around noon, we had litter carry training, where we transported a subject on a litter over, under, through, and around a K-9 agility course.

CERTs maneuver a subject on a litter through the rubble pile.

Lunch? A 15-minute break for a quick snack.

By now we were all looking at our watches, trying to find some shade or, better yet, a place to hide from DELMARVA SAR's Jim Jackson:

DELMARVA SAR'S Jim Jackson in a litter rig.

No luck. One more assignment, now using mixed search teams composed of individuals from both organizations. But, it didn't matter what,​ ​WE DID IT!

You may not find any pictures of the team after the last drill. We had no energy left to even shoot a picture...

We now understand why it said "This highly sought after event ...." The CERTEX exercise was one worth being part of.​ ​

We can also assert without any doubt that "it is a physically demanding training exercise."

We are all looking forward for the next iteration of this drill and we recommend everybody to register next year.

Thank you Fairfax County CERT for this opportunity and thank you DELMARVA SAR for the time dedicated to us and the camaraderie they showed us.

Fairfax County CERTs who participated in CERTEX 2014.

[See many more photos in Carlos's full CERTEX 2014 album on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.

For more upcoming training opportunities with Fairfax County CERT, visit http://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov and search for "CERT".]

Carlos Santiso is a Communications Coordinator for Fairfax County CERT and member of various CERT teams in the region. You can email him at radio@fairfaxcountycert.org.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Outreach Roundup: August 19, 2014

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

CERT Outreach helps our community be more prepared for disasters by going out and encouraging people to increase their preparedness and take Fairfax County CERT training.

Outreach Recap
We completed the Outreach inventory, and have set up an inventory management system for all Outreach assets, including our Outreach booth kits. (Please note: if anyone is still holding any Outreach supplies, please return them as soon as possible so we can properly account for them.)

In addition, all the FEMA brochures that we hand out at events are now stamped with our www.fairfaxcountycert.org address, so that in addition to the preparedness message, recipients also get a reminder to visit Fairfax County CERT. (If you have any of the unstamped brochures, please contact Char at outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org so you can swap them for the new versions.)

And speaking of brochures, we're working on an updated version of the CERT tri-fold brochure. We hope to get it out to the printer soon.

Also, thank you to Susy Ledgerwood, Donna Hosek, Stephen Richardson, and Carlos Santiso for their excellent work on National Night Out events. 

Upcoming Outreach Events
Here are some upcoming events. For more information and to volunteer for an event, click the volunteer management system (VMS) sign-up link (where available) or email outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org

Saturday, Aug. 23: Old Firehouse Teen Center Block Party -- 1-2 CERTs needed to set up and staff an Outreach booth at this annual block party in downtown McLean. 2:00 PM (set up) to 8:00 PM. Sign-up: Outreach Lead.

Tuesday, Aug. 26: Springfield BridgeWalk -- We need as many CERTs as we can get to march (in their CERT t-shirts) in this short (0.2 mile) parade across Veterans Bridge in Springfield. 7:00-9:00 PM. Sign-up: Outreach Lead.

Oct. 4-5: Fall for Fairfax Kidsfest -- We'll have an Outreach booth at this popular kid-focused event at the Fairfax County Government Center. Sign-up: VMS link pending.

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)

CERT Outreach setup at the Vienna Fire Station during the 2013 open house. Photo: Donna Hosek.
Plus, we've got CERTs doing additional Outreach events at the Pentagon, US Patent and Trademark Office, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

For more information about these events or any other Outreach activities, please email the Outreach team at outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org. 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 outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Over" Is So Over: CERT Emergency Communication Class

What's the greatest logistical problem during emergency events? History shows that it's maintaining effective communications.

On Tuesday, over 20 Fairfax County CERTs took the CERT Emergency Communications class, so they could become more effective communicators during emergency events as they coordinate with other CERTs and first responders in Fairfax County and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments [COG] area.

Instructor Brian Talbott demonstrates the functional shape of a communications plan. Photo: Joe Loong.
Communications Plan
Instructor Brian Talbott gave an overview of how CERTs use communications in emergencies, from reporting team status, highlighting safety concerns, and sharing information between team members and up the chain to the next level.

Crucial to managing all this is the use of a communications plan, which determines who communicates to whom, and how they will be communicating.
 
The types of communications tools will vary depending on the conditions on scene and the equipment available, but could include everything from:
  • Runners carrying written messages or USB thumb drives
  • Landline telephones
  • Cell phones
  • Text messages
  • Email
  • FRS and GMRS radios
  • Citizen Band (CB) radios
  • Amateur radios (Ham) 
  • Dedicated public-safety-band radios
Left: Motorola radio used by Fairfax County Fire & Rescue (Cost: c. $6,000). Right: Uniden FRS/GMRS radio in the CERT radio supply (Cost: c. $30). Photo: Joe Loong.
Each method has advantages and disadvantages, but no matter what tools are being used, responders need a solid communications plan to prevent the system from being overwhelmed.

Focus on the Family
Much of the class focused on the use of Family Radio Service (FRS) radios, which are part of CERT's radio cache. These hand-held radios are fairly inexpensive and commonly used, which also presents challenges in a crowded spectrum where anyone can listen in.

CERTs were walked through the basics of operating FRS radios, both on technical aspects like keeping the antenna vertical and staying stationary when transmitting, and other best practices: Using call signs instead of names, being mindful of speaker volume in crowds, and speaking across the microphone, not directly into it, to increase sound quality.

Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's Radio Procedures
CERTs were also given insights into Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's radio procedures, since in the event of an emergency situation, CERTs would most likely be interacting with responders from the county.

CERTs learned to:
  • Begin calls with who's being called, followed by who's calling (e.g. "CERT Command, this is Team 1.")
  • Use plain language, not 10 Codes
  • End their communications without saying "over"
  • Follow the "echo principle," where instead of just saying "copy," repeating back what was just told to you
  • Use prowords (or procedure words), some of which may be different from those used by other jurisdictions (including "direct," which means "I understand/am available"). [For other examples, see this video from FairfaxFirefighters.org.]

Practice, Practice, Practice
CERT attendees got a chance to practice their radio technique in the classroom. Instructor Talbott also advised CERTs to familiarize themselves with how Fairfax County Fire & Rescue personnel communicate on the radio in real-life situations by listening to actual communications online, or using a scanner smartphone app.

Fairfax County CERT will be offering additional emergency communications classes, and hopes to hold a radio simulation exercise where CERTs can practice emergency communications in the field... naturally, stay tuned.

For more information about this and other CERT training opportunities, follow the weekly CERT emails and visit volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov and search for "CERT".

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Thanks, Linda!

Recently, the state of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) decided to shut down the State Citizens Corps Council.

The other day, it was decided to move VDEM CERT program manager/representative Linda Rubin to other duties. As of January 1, 2015, the CERT office at VDEM will no longer exist.

[Update: August 11, 2014: Linda Rubin is no longer with VDEM. Thanks, Linda, for all you've done to support CERT!]

While that doesn't affect the Fairfax County CERT program directly, it does have quite an impact throughout the state. 

As the VDEM CERT representative, Linda has been a fierce, tireless proponent and evangelist for CERT, single-handedly crisscrossing the state to help jurisdictions start their own CERT programs, and keeping in touch to monitor their progress.  (You may also remember her as a featured speaker at CERT CON 2013.)

IMG_1741
Linda Rubin speaks at CERT CON 2013.
Through her classes for local program managers, Linda has ensured that all CERT programs in Virginia follow the same standard curriculum, and give the full program.

She has also worked steadily to help the local CERT programs partner with other entities to further protect the residents of Virginia.

And finally, by holding annual meetings in each of Virginia's many VDEM zones, Linda has helped many CERT organization collaborate across jurisdictions.

IMG_1759
Linda helps check in victim actors during the CERT CON 2013 full-scale exercise.
Losing Linda as VDEM's CERT program manager hurts Virginia's CERT program, undermining the goal of empowering citizens to increase preparedness and community resilience 

What Can You Do?
If you think Linda has been doing a great job incubating, promoting, and supporting CERT programs in Virginia, please take a moment to leave a comment below thanking her.  send a message thanking her for her efforts at Linda.Rubin@vdem.virginia.gov.

And if you believe that Linda should continue in her role as VDEM's CERT program manager, please say so, so that she and others know that her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

As of January 1st, the CERT office at VDEM is gone, but with a little help, we may be able to save it.


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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fairfax County Firefighters to Battle Fire, Smoke, Meat on Sept. 27

Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison (and occasional squirrel), passes along this event next month: Fairfax County's International Search and Rescue Team will be defending its title in the 4th Annual Women in Homeland Security BBQ Cook-Off.

Fairfax County International Search & Rescue, two-time winners of the WHS BBQ Cook-Off at the 2013 contest. Photo: WHS 2014 BBQ Cook-Off Facebook Page
Fire, smoke, and meat will be involved.

Fairfax County International Search & Rescue's 2013 winning team. Photo: WHS 2014 BBQ Cook-Off Facebook Page
See below for details and support Fairfax County's team!


2014 WHS BBQ Cook-Off Scheduled for September 27!

Join us for the 4th annual Women in Homeland Security BBQ Cook-Off to benefit the ICE Foundation! Over 250 friends and colleagues from all facets of the homeland security join us for great BBQ, live music, kids activities and incredible networking between all of our homeland heroes!
In 2013, teams from the Fairfax County International Search & Rescue, ICE Foundation, Border Patrol Foundation, InfraGard National Capital Members Alliance, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, and the Coast Guard Enlisted Association joined us for some amazing BBQ and a spirit of camaraderie in the homeland security community.

WHAT: WHS BBQ COOK-OFF Competition to benefit the ICE Foundation

WHERE: USCG TISCOM, 7323 Telegraph Road Alexandria, VA

WHO: Members of the homeland security community gather for a Cook-Off competition to build the homeland security community, meet one another and raise money for a great cause.

Join us for the latest updates on our WHS BBQ Facebook page! Like us for FREE and get special promotions and event news! Help even more by spreading the news to friends in our community!

REGISTER at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2014-whs-bbq-cook-off-tickets-12243720297


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

Outreach Roundup: August 1, 2014

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

CERT Outreach helps our community be more prepared for disasters by going out and encouraging people to increase their preparedness and take Fairfax County CERT training.

Outreach Recap

Although we had some great Outreach planning and inventory meetings, the highlight of July was introducing people to CERT at our Outreach booth at the July 13 kickoff for the World Police and Fire Games.

Not only did we get the chance to talk up Fairfax County CERT to hundreds of interested passersby (getting dozens of them to sign up for more info) and watch some great sports demonstrations, but we also got a visit from Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's Chief Richard Bowers, a friend and strong supporter of CERT.

Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers (center) at the Fairfax County CERT Outreach booth with CERTs Joe Loong, Nichole Klocke Rodriguez, Brendan O'Neill, and Edgar Rodriguez. (Photo: Char Silberstein)

Most impressive was the fact that this Outreach opportunity popped up at the last minute. In only a few days, the team was able to stand up and fully staff the event. Great job!

Upcoming Outreach Events

Here are some upcoming events. For more information and to volunteer for an event, click the link (where available) or email outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org

Aug. 5: National Night Out -- National Night Out started in 1984 as a way to prevent crime by bringing neighborhood residents together with each other and the first responders who serve them. Now, on the first Tuesday of August, over 16,000 communities hold activities ranging from block parties and cookouts to safety demonstrations and rallies, usually from 7-10 PM (though they can happen at any time during the day).

If your community is participating in NNO activities, take this opportunity to get to know your neighbors better, and tell them about CERT and what makes it valuable. Email us for tips, tricks, and best practices to make your message more effective.

Sept. 6-7: Ready-Set-Know Festival -- CERT will be joined by several other volunteer service organizations in an effort to highlight different ways Fairfax County residents can be more prepared for any emergency.

Sept. 30: America's Prepareathon National Day of Action -- September is National Preparedness Month, and as part of it, we'll be coming up with an activity for the National Day of Action to help increase community preparedness (as well as other activities during the month). Stay tuned!

Oct. 4-5: Fall for Fairfax Kidsfest -- We'll have an Outreach booth at this popular kid-focused event at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Oct. 11: Fire Prevention Week, Fire Station Open Houses -- 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.

Tentative Events:
TBD: Parade (Annandale Fall or Vienna Halloween) -- We're exploring having CERTs marching in a local fall parade. Watch for more updates as we get them.

Plus, we've got CERTs doing additional Outreach events at the Pentagon, US Patent and Trademark Office, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

For more information about these events or any other Outreach activities, please email the Outreach team at outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org. Thanks, and we hope to see you at an upcoming event!



Char Silberstein and Esperanza Rey are Outreach co-leads for Fairfax County CERT. You can email them at outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Welcome, New CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 83

On June 23, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 83 faced a scenario replicating what had happened in real life barely a week before: Severe thunderstorm activity causing heavy building damage, downed trees, and widespread power outages throughout the county.

In this graduation exercise, CERTs were called to the scene of two heavily damaged apartment buildings, and challenged to apply the disaster response knowledge and skills they'd learned over the past seven weeks.

However, first they had to get through fire suppression training.

Putting Out Fires
Using a propane-fueled fire simulator as their target, teams of two CERTs, using the P.A.S.S. technique they learned in class (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep), used fire extinguishers to attack a blaze controlled by Instructor Brian Talbott.

CERT took turns performing both roles on a fire suppression team: extinguisher operator and safety lookout. Photo: Joe Loong

Preparations and Moulage
Meanwhile, as CERTs were extinguishing fires, CERT staffers and instructors were busy setting up the target buildings and applying moulage (realistic wound makeup) to the victim actors.

CERT staffers consult after preparing the fire suppression station and placing simulated hazards around the scene. Building A, the primary target for the exercise, is background left. Photo: Carlos Santiso
CERT Laura and son Etienne show that being a victim actor is a family affair, as Moulage Lead Susy applies wound makeup to simulate burns. Photo: Joe Loong
Victim actors show off their moulage, or wound makeup, simulating a variety of burns, lacerations, and impalements. Photo: Joe Loong

Neighboring Response
One of the perks of the Fairfax County CERT program is that the training usually occurs at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy -- the same place where the county's first responders train. That was particularly evident this night, as a training exercise took place in an adjacent building, complete with smoke, flashing fire engine lights, and firefighters in full turnout gear.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue responders train in an adjacent building at the same time as the CERT exercise. Photo: Carlos Santiso

Challenging the Darkness
Unlike other recent CERT final exercises, Class 83's took place at night, and the darkness provided an extra challenge to CERTs as they mounted their response to the simulated disaster.

By the light of their headlamps, CERT rescuers rapidly assess and treat a victim actor. Photo: Joe Loong
In addition, several victim actors were positioned in awkward and constrained spaces at the tops and bottoms of staircases, giving CERT rescuers additional considerations to deal with as they worked to triage, treat, and transport them to the Medical area.  

A CERT rescue team encounters and begins assessing a victim actor at the foot of an outdoor staircase. Photo: Joe Loong

CERTs maneuver a victim actor in a tight spot at the top of a stairwell inside Building A. Photo: Joe Loong

Also, the victim actors, coached to provide realistically challenging portrayals of their injuries, increased the stress level for CERTs. Some victim actors, like Fran of CERT class 72, didn't require much coaching at all:




After-Action
Incident Commander Greg Campion led CERT activities at the Command Post. A military officer, Greg decided to get involved with CERT after serving as an Interagency Fellow at FEMA.

When asked afterwards, Greg's assessment was that the CERTs performed well, and attributed much of their success to the quality and skill of each of the division leads.

 Incident Commander Greg and Accountability Lead Sarah (left side, table) coordinate CERT activities and issue instructions. Photo: Joe Loong
Accountability Lead Sarah Johnson was praised by command staff as being very capable and detail-oriented as she tracked the activities of CERT teams. At times, she worked with Greg as a de factor Deputy IC, a fact all the more notable considering she's a first-year college student who recently turned 18 years old, and didn't find out about her role in the exercise until that evening.

In addition, Lead Instructor Steve Willey was impressed by the ingenuity of the CERTs, who used a white sheet duct-taped to plywood backing as the command staff's status board (which he later took to use as an example to future CERT classes):

The status board used by Accountability to track the actions of rescue teams and other activities. Photo: Carlos Santiso.
Congratulations to all the new CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 83, and thanks to all the victim actors, staff, and others who participated in the exercise.

See more photos from the exercise on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page:


The next training classes at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy start in September -- click to see more details and register: CERT 85, Mondays beginning Sept. 8, and CERT 86, Wednesdays beginning Sept. 10.


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