Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shadowing CERTs, Class 3: Disaster Medical Operations 1

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: The students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 have gotten an Introduction to CERT and instruction in Disaster Management. In their third week, things are about to get a lot more hands on...]

Starting this week, Fairfax County CERT students are expected to arrive wearing their full CERT gear, because class starts with a drill to test what they've learned to date about managing disasters.

When they get to the darkened High Bay, CERTs must quickly size up the scene, set up Command and Accountability functions, send out Logistics teams to gather materials, establish a Medical area, and begin Rescue operations, all by flashlight. (We'll have pictures of a High Bay drill in the Week 4 writeup.)

Throughout the process, instructors coach the students, reminding them to properly tag the building before entering and helping them conduct a top-down or bottom-up search.

In this drill, the victims are plywood "gingerbread" cutouts, as well as a few human instructors who arrive at Medical for treatment. (CERTs will learn patient lifts and classes in a later class.)

Instructor Rich Hall leads class on Disaster Medical Operations. All photos by Joe Loong

After a debrief, CERTs head back to the classroom for lectures and skill drills led by instructor Rich Hall, who leads off by teaching CERTs to identify themselves and ask patients for permission before beginning treatment (noting that consent is implied when dealing with unconscious victims).

CERT responders learn that their primary goal during rescue operations is to rapidly triage, tag, and treat life-threatening injuries, spending no more than 30 seconds per victim. They learn the triage categories of Red (Immediate), Yellow (Delayed), Green (Minor), and Black (Expectant/Dead). And they learn simple methods to evaluate victims, like the RPM test, which checks for Respiration, Perfusion (an indicator of effective circulation), and Mental Status.

Duct tape "desktops" that CERTs use to record the number, triage status, and location of victims.

Students also learn how to use their duct tape and Sharpie markers to make victim tags and a recording desktop that they'll later turn in to Command.

Rich demonstrates the head-tilt, chin-lift method to open an airway.

For CERT rescuers in the field, patient treatment consists of stopping the "three killers" by opening airways, stopping major bleeding (as well as a new addition this year, treating sucking chest wounds), and treating for shock.

They learn just what constitutes major bleeding (it doesn't take a lot of blood to make a big mess), and learn how do use different types of materials ranging from cravats and triangular bandages, to duct tape and torn sheets, to apply a proper (and tight) pressure dressing to stop major bleeding. And they get an introduction on the use of occlusive dressings to treat sucking chest wound, as well as tourniquets (CERTs can get further instruction in both techniques in a separate class offering.)

Class 86 CERTs practice assessing patients and treating them to stop the "three killers" by opening airways, stopping major bleeding, and treating for shock.
During the skill drills, CERTs get a chance to be both rescuers and victims. Drills begin with treatment; then triage and treatment; then triage, treatment, and tagging. Each drill reinforces and then builds on the skills they practiced in the previous drill.

The final hallway drill presents CERTs a large number of casualties, who they must rapidly triage, tag, and treat.

In the evening's final drill, students are faced with a number of victims, either in the High Bay or lined up in a hallway, and must quickly triage, tag, and treat victims, all under the watchful eye of instructors.

CERT rescuers work in teams; one person assesses the victim, and the other prepares the tag and records their information.

In subsequent weeks, the students of CERT Classes 85 and 86 will build on this knowledge, as the drills (and what they're expected to do in them) get more complex.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 2, Disaster Management

[Editor's Note: I'm in training to become a CERT Volunteer Instructor, so I've been observing Fairfax County CERT's Fall classes at the Fire & Rescue Academy (Classes 85 and 86). I planned on posting class recaps every week, but since we're now in week six of seven and I've only posted once, I'm clearly behind schedule. I'm going to try to get caught up in time for the classes' Nov. 15 final graduation exercise.]

The first week of CERT training is largely about why CERT does what it does. In the second class, Disaster Management, the students of CERT Classes 85 and 86 really started getting into the how's: How CERTs organize and respond to a disaster.

Instructor Mike Forgy teaches the students of Class 86 the finer points of CERT organization. All photos: Joe Loong
During the opening lecture, instructors threw out a slew of acronyms, mnemonics, and rules of thumb to help CERTs orient themselves during a disaster response, including:
  • Use the CALMeR command structure: Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, Rescue
  • Rescuers should be SAFE: Survey scene; Affix tags; Fix life; Extricate victims
  • Determine priorities for rescue by focusing on "Worst hurt, easiest to get out."
CERTs also learned that a good set of orders has both geographic and functional components: "Team 2, I need you to go to Building 2, Floor 2 [a specific place] and conduct a search and report back [a specific action]."

Then, the CERT students were told to gear up and head outside for a round-robin of stations that demonstrated the functions of Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue.

Lead Instructor Steve Willey receives a scene size-up report at the Command station.

For Command and Accountability, CERTs got an overview of the Command function. They were taught how to pick a safe site for their Command Post, and how to begin setting up the other departments and their leaders. They learned that the CERT organization is designed to keep a commander's span of control to no more 7 persons, with the optimum being 3-5. And they learned the importance of maintaining Accountability for all team members: Being able to know who is doing what at any given time.

Volunteer Instructor Jonathan Kiell shows Class 85 CERTs the materials gathered at a Logistics cache.
At the Logistics station, CERTs learned how to keep the response supplied with vital materials, ranging from materials for lifting, cribbing, and building stretchers for the Rescue teams, to tarps, water, bandages, and shelter for the Medical area. CERTs were encouraged to use their resourcefulness to obtain materials, but cautioned to stay within legal and ethical boundaries.

At the Medical station, CERT Jim McPheeters uses the contents of his CERT back to show students how to provision a Medical area.
CERTs learned how to set up and operate a Medical area using only the materials in their packs and items supplied by Logistics. A proper Medical area has safe, distinct areas for the treatment of each category of triaged patients, as well as access control and a check-in process so that incoming patients aren't lost in the chaos.

CERTs of Class 85 go through the burn building as they watch a CERT Rescue team perform a building search.
For the Rescue station, CERTs were led through the burn building in a sample floor search, where students learned the importance of the buddy system and maintaining situational awareness. They also learned how to do a proper interior search -- keeping the same hand on a wall and following it around until you get back to the entrance, while keeping track of potential hazards, victims, entrances, and exits.

In CERT training, each class builds on what the students learned the previous classes, and lays the groundwork for the next. In the second class, CERTs began to learn how to function while wearing their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and got a view of what a disaster response looks like. Their training will get much more hands-on in the following weeks.

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

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