Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lost Child Search Conducted by Crosspointe Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Students

Fairfax Station, Virginia, June 18, 2015 – In a serendipitous chain of events one recent June evening in the Crosspointe neighborhood of Fairfax County, a class of adult emergency response students instantaneously shifted from a simulated learning exercise, to a real-world search and rescue for a missing child.

Fairfax County’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area. CERT trains county residents in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

At about 9:15 in a dark urban setting, eleven CERT students from CERT Class 98 were exercising their search and recovery skills in a darkened building. Students were all decked out in green hard hats, helmet lights, reflective vests, backpacks, and personal protective equipment. Suddenly, with three blasts of a whistle, the exercise was terminated. A pair of Crosspointe residents had come up to class members and informed them that a search had been initiated for a preteen who had failed to return home from school. Lead Instructor James Sobecke made contact with the investigating Fairfax County Police Department officer, and shortly after, the CERT class members (along with their instructors) were enrolled in the search.

In the blink of an eye, well-motivated Crosspointe and Fairfax County residents shifted from students to searchers.  Their classroom goals of “someday” helping their neighbors were being put into practice. The CERTs formed up into 9 pairs, and utilized their CERT training and protocols to systematically and thoroughly search the fields and woods behind Crosspointe Elementary School and other wooded areas adjacent to Heron Pond.

Fortunately, this story ended very well, as the missing child was soon located unharmed.  But the experience was made to order for this soon-to-be graduating class of CERT students and their cadre of instructors, who can never tell when they might be called upon to step up into an emergency response situation, and to embody the spirit of "Neighbors Helping Neighbors!"

The CERT members of Fairfax County CERT Class 98. Photo by Dan Liebman.

If you would like to learn more about CERT and enroll in this free training, please visit

Jim McPheeters is a volunteer with the Fairfax County CERT, and one of the leads of the Fairfax County CERT Local Neighborhood CERT Teams initiative. You can email him at

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Meet Some of Our New CERTs

We meet a lot of people who go through training with the Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). They're a diverse bunch, but they have at least one thing in common: They want to be more prepared so they can help themselves and their communities in case a major disaster strikes. Here are profiles of some of the Fairfax County CERT graduates from our recent classes:

Victor Hampton-Stone (Class 94) works at the Apple Store, and served as Incident Commander (IC) during the Class 94 final exercise. He found out about the class through co-workers (some of whom who were also signed up for an upcoming CERT class).

When I asked Victor about his experience as IC, he said it was quite challenging, and while it may look easy, it's definitely not. He also noted that the live human factor added both difficulty and motivation for the CERTs, with everyone putting pressure on themselves: "You need to save that person."

Overall, he learned a lot from CERT training, calling it a great experience working with friends, and people who came to be friends.

Rich Kline (Class 94) had previously taken CERT training with a program in Maryland. He noted that while the core curriculum was the same, the training he received in Fairfax County CERT was quite a bit different than what he'd taken before.

Working Medical during his class's final drill, he shared a lesson learned for rescuers: No matter how eager you are to get back into the disaster scene, when you get your patients to Medical, you can't just "dump and run." Instead, rescuers need to make sure that patients are uniquely and clearly identified with team number, victim number, and triage color, and that this information is communicated to the Medical lead for accountability.

(Incidentally, of the members of Class 94, Rich had, by far, the longest drive to get to the Fire Academy.)

Monte Sanchez (Class 95) works in IT for Kaiser Permanente. He also served as Incident Commander for his Class 95 final exercise. Like many ICs, he mentioned challenges he had communicating with members and coordinating response activities, but noted that CERT members used good teamwork to work with each other in their respective roles.

An added complication for Class 95 was that, having previously had their classes at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (Fire Station 402), the final was the first time they set foot at the Fire Academy... making it completely unfamiliar territory, to which they had to adapt.

Lynne Larabee (Class 95) is in finance. She and a friend had heard about CERT and decided to take the class together. However, Lynne wasn't able to take the Class 95 final exercise with her class, so she joined Class 94 for theirs, working on a Rescue team.

Although Lynne had been a bit nervous coming into her final with people with whom she hadn't previously worked, she said it was gratifying to see how communicating with her new teammates brought everything together, letting people step into the right roles.

Paris Fontenot (Class 97, on the left) is a student, and learned about CERT through her friend, co-worker, and CERT classmate Alison. Paris decided to take the class because she thought that CERT sounded like a good concept. When I spoke to her (at the end of the second of the seven classes), she already felt that the training was very informative and that she was learning a lot.

Alison Huang (Class 97, on the right) is also a student. Alison has a personal connection to CERT, having learned about the program from her boyfriend, an EMT who is currently enrolled in Firefighter School in Fairfax County. This means he also trains at the Fire Academy... though not at the same time as the CERTs. (Another big difference is, when he goes into a burn building, it's probably on fire.)

Evelyn Turner (Class 97) is a retired teacher, and learned about CERT from a fellow member of the Vienna Women's Club. Evelyn, who has already participated in disaster recovery efforts with the Mennonite Disaster Service and Day to Serve, wanted to expand on her skill set, as well as connect with other people involved in helping others though disaster response and recovery.

Will Gustafson (Class 97) is a marketing manager at an IT services company. He learned about the CERT program by talking to CERTs who were staffing an Outreach table at a "Touch-a-Truck" event in May. Nine days later, he was taking his first CERT class. (We on the Outreach team love these kinds of stories, since we can directly connect new CERT student signups to our Outreach activities.)

Finally, here's a special story featuring two more members from Class 97. Bobby Shrestha (left) works for the Department of the Navy; Suraj Poudel (right) is a sales manager. Both were born in Nepal, and have friends and family members living there, including some affected by the major earthquake that struck in April.

As the response to the disaster unfolded, Bobby saw local news stories about the  Virginia Task Force 1, Fairfax County's elite urban search and rescue team, and their deployment to Nepal. He shared that information with Suraj, and together they sought out more information about Task Force 1, learning about the Fairfax County CERT program in the process. They felt that CERT training was a way they could prepare themselves to help others in case of a disaster, as well as give back to their communities. (Through CERT, they also learned about a volunteer opportunity to staff a call center run by USAID's Center for International Disaster Information, set up to handle inquiries about the Nepal earthquake response.)

We love telling stories about our CERTs. Whether you're a new Fairfax County CERT graduate or a longtime participant in the program, if you'd like to share your CERT experience with CERT in a profile, please email me at

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

CERTs in Action: Traffic Accident

CERTs don't self-deploy, and they don't go around looking for trouble. But when something happens right in front of a trained CERT, there's nothing that says that he or she can't use skills learned in CERT to safely help out until first responders arrive.

CERT 45 exercise, June 2010.
That's what happened last Monday when CERT John Morris (Class 45) encountered a two-car accident on Braddock Road. (John and I were classmates in Class 45. Here's a picture of him from when he was Incident Commander during our final exercise -- he's the guy wearing sunglasses.)

Now, judging by the photos, as car accidents go, it wasn't too bad. From a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is "fender bender" and 10 is "MICHAEL BAY MOVIE!!!," this one was probably a 3.5. You can see that one of the vehicles (an SUV) was on its side, but according to John, no one seemed seriously injured, and nothing was on fire,etc.

One of the two vehicles involved in the accident. Photos by John Morris

This overturned SUV was the second vehicle involved in the accident.
So, while there was no need for John to run in with a fire extinguisher, slap on a pressure dressing, or whip out a seat belt cutter, there were still simple things he was able to do to help out before first responders arrived.

Here's what happened, in John's own words:
"Just to clarify, both drivers were OK. I spoke with the woman in the SUV turned on its side and made sure she was OK, and didn't have any major injuries. She had a good gash on her elbow and I was able to hand her some gauze wraps that I had in my 'go bag' in my truck. She wiped her arm off to make sure the bleeding had stopped. I asked her some questions and tried to get her to stay still but she insisted she was OK, and wanted to climb out of the back hatch that opened upon impact. I helped clear the 'stuff' out of the way and she crawled out the back. The Police Department and Fire Department arrived and I left."
So, let's do some Saturday night quarterbacking: John didn't make things worse; he gave the driver some gauze so she could self-treat her minor injury; he didn't commit assault trying to force her to stay in the vehicle; and he got out of the way when police and fire personnel arrived.

All told, sounds like a good morning's work for a citizen, and a job well done. Good work, John!

Have a thought about John's response, or your own story to share about a time when you used your CERT skills to help out? Leave a comment below.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

CERT Tip: Keep Emergency Contact Info Under Your Hat (er, Helmet)

During a recent CERT final exercise at the Fire Academy, a CERT student experienced a medical emergency.

Now, there's no great place to have a medical emergency, but as places go, the Fire Academy during a CERT exercise is better than most. Within seconds, the CERT was being treated by CERT instructors equipped with the first aid bag they keep around for real-world emergencies, and assisted by firefighters and EMTs who were at the Academy for their own training exercise.

The CERT had also done something very helpful (following earlier suggestions from instructors), by writing their emergency contact information on a piece of duct tape (taped to itself, sticky side to sticky side), and securing it with velcro it to the inside of their helmet.

Alternately, you can write your info on a notecard, put it inside a ziploc bag, and tape the bag to the inside of your helmet (between the liner and the shell), like this:

CERT Tip: Write your emergency contact info on a card, put it in a ziploc bag, and place the bag in your helmet.

Now, we had all the class members' emergency contact info on file, but having it right in the helmet definitely saved time and made things easier. So keeping this information on your person would be even more valuable if you ever got into trouble responding during a real-world disaster. (And who's the most important person in CERT? You are.)

The information on the card should include:
  • Your name
  • Your CERT program and class number
  • Medical information, including conditions, medications, and allergies
  • Emergency contacts' name and phone number
Alternately, our Logistics CERTs pointed out that there are a bunch of templates you can find online (example: free medical ID card) that you can use to print out personalized cards that you can laminate or seal into a plastic bag.

Have any other tips you'd like to share with your fellow CERTs? Drop me an email or leave a comment below.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Congratulations to Our Award-Winning CERT Volunteers!

[Editor's Note: Happy Friday, CERTs! Here's the text of an email sent by Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Volunteer Liaison Jeffrey Katz]

America has a long and proud tradition of volunteer service. Now more than ever, volunteers are renewing their commitment to helping others and making new connections that bring us closer together as families, as neighbors, as communities, and as a nation.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award program is a great way to thank and honor those who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.

Recognizing and honoring volunteers sets a standard for service, encourages a sustained commitment to civic participation, and inspires others to make service a central part of their lives. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes individuals, families, and groups that have achieved a certain standard – measured by the number of hours of service during a 12-month period or cumulative hours earned over the course of a lifetime.

Awards are given to individuals 16 and older who have completed 100 or more hours in a calendar year.

Based on the data in VMS (Volunteer Management System), the following CERT volunteers have achieved this milestone for 2014, by either taking CERT classes and/or volunteering in other capacities for the CERT program:

Gary Nisker402 hours
James Sobecke317 hours
Susan Ledgerwood303 hours
Jack Ledgerwood267 hours
Anita Van der Merwe267 hours
Missy Tuttle-Ferrio266 hours
Brendan O'Neill229 hours
Jonathan Kiell222 hours
Donna Hosek184 hours
James McPheeters170 hours
Edgar Rodriguez166 hours
Char Silberstein150 hours
Ginny Katona144 hours
Carlos Santiso140 hours
Lani Young127 hours
Joseph Loong125 hours
Steve Eng124 hours
Timothy Hosek108 hours
Kathleen Jones107 hours
Mary Moon107 hours
The individuals listed above will be receiving their pins and official letter in July.

Congratulations to all!

For more information about the President’s Volunteer Service Award, please visit

Thank you,

Jeffrey F. Katz
Volunteer Liaison
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Class Highlights: CERT 95 - Vienna

Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 95 took place at a location out in the community -- the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. This was not unusual -- in fact, it's pretty standard: If you can provide a minimum of 12 students and a location to train, we'll send CERT trainers out to you, for free.

What was unusual (and in fact, may be a first for us) was having a community class perform its final graduation exercise at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. And that's precisely what happened on April 30, 2015, when the students of CERT Class 95 came to the Fire Academy for their final exercise.

Before they could get started with the scenario, though, they needed to get through two practical skills tests. The first was fire suppression -- using fire extinguishers to put out a small, instructor-controlled fire:

CERT fire suppression teams work in teams of two. All photos: Joe Loong

The second skills test was lifting and cribbing -- using teamwork and simple machines like wooden blocks, levers, and wedges to raise and support a load (think moving an obstacle, or freeing a survivor trapped underneath).

CERT students discuss their plan of attack before trying to move the load.

CERTs work the levers on command.

With the skills tests completed, the CERTs went on to their final exercise, which took place at the garden apartment, inside the Academy's High Bay.

Responding to a simulated severe weather incident, the CERTs used the skills and knowledge they'd gained over the previous 25 hours of training to set up their Command Post, organize themselves, and go to work to survey the scene and search for survivors.

CERT rescue teams check in at the Command Post.
Here, the CERTs had to deal with new uncertainties -- not only were they in an unfamiliar location, but this was their first time dealing with the challenge of live human victim actors, done up in realistic wound makeup (known as moulage).

At first, some of the CERTs were hesitant. Working with live strangers is different from treating classmates or rescue dummies, and light years away from dealing with plywood gingerbread cutouts. But as they focused on the problem, they drew on their training and set about triaging, treating, tagging, and transporting simulated survivors:

A CERT Rescue team transports a survivor to Medical.
The purpose of CERT is to train people to safely help themselves and their communities until first responders can arrive. In a major disaster, help might not arrive for hours (or even days), so CERTs must be prepared to give continuing care to the survivors that they rescue.

Medical CERTs assess and care for Yellow and Red-tagged survivors at Medical.
At the conclusion of the exercise, CERT students and instructors gathered to debrief and share lessons learned.

Congratulations to the CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 95!
Congratulations to all the new CERTs of Class 95! We hope you'll stay involved with the program by taking advantage of our many advanced training classes; participating as a responder or victim actor in an exercise; talking up CERT to your neighbors and friends; or coming to the monthly CERT program meetings (usually at the Fairfax County Government Center, every third Tuesday from 7-9:30pm).

Want to get CERT training at your place? If you're part of a homeowner's association, workplace, or other community group, can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, and can provide a training space (community center, clubhouse, meeting room, etc.), CERT instructors will come to you! Email James Sobecke at 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, May 28, 2015

Come Play! CERT Mass Casualty Exercise, Sat. June 6, Lorton Training Site

Let's be real: How long has it been since you put on your CERT gear and practiced your CERT skills in a full-scale exercise, featuring realistically moulaged victim actors in an authentically damaged disaster site?

At Lorton exercises, we can really make a mess and simulate "big and bad."
Or, for our recent CERT graduates, how'd you like to test your skills in a disaster response scene that's 10 times bigger and more intense than what you went through?

Does anyone else smell smoke?
Join us Saturday, June 6, from 7AM to 3PM at the Lorton Training Site (home of Fairfax County's elite urban search and rescue team, Virginia Task Force 1) for a CERT mass casualty exercise that will push your CERT training to the limit!

Welcome to Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue's Lorton Training Site.
Used by professional first responders who need a realistically damaged urban disaster scene, the Lorton Training Site at the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center provides a unique opportunity for CERTs to train in an authentic disaster scene.

Views of the authentically damaged Lorton buildings.

When filled with live victim actors wearing high-quality wound makeup, it's the most realistic training CERTs will get short of an actual disaster. (Also, all victim actors can come free! The more, the merrier! See the registration page for more info.)

Does this bring back any memories? Reminder: It's just makeup.
We're looking for responders and victim actors to play in the exercise (as well as a few more controllers, evaluators, and ham radio operators). We'd especially like to invite trained CERTs from other programs in the National Capital Region to participate as responders (so we can work together like we do during CERT CONs).

Also new this year, especially for our Local Neighborhood CERT Teams: You can register and respond as a team. Just choose the "Create a team" or "Join a team" options at signup. (And don't worry if you're not on a team, or you want to work with CERTs from other jurisdictions -- you can still sign up for the drill as an individual!)

For only $7 (victim actors pay nothing), you'll receive breakfast and lunch from one of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's Canteen trucks, as well as the opportunity to take an exclusive tour of the Lorton Training Site used by Virginia Task Force 1.

For full details, visit our signup page:

Sign up today and we'll see you at Lorton on June 6!

Joe Loong is a Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at