Monday, August 3, 2015

CERT Training Recap: Wide Area Search Operations

[Editor's Note: Brendan O'Neill, CERT Class 80, recently participated in a three-day CERT CERT class on Wide Area Search Operations, which as the name suggests, is about conducting searches that cover a large geographical area. Here's his writeup of the class.]

Fairfax County CERT continuing education’s second offering of the class Wide Area Search (PER-213-WAS), was held at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Training Academy,   Tuesday through Thursday, July 21-23.

Susann Brown, Ken Sutcliffe, and Wayne Ibers, from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), came to Fairfax, VA to teach this course as part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and National Response Framework. The three-day training is designed to help search resources to effectively plan, manage, and conduct search operations for large-incident search response.

We learned how to utilize documents from TEEX and FEMA to plan, prepare, practice and perform wide area search functions as both a search resource (boots on the ground) and as a search manager (overview and management). We used forms such as the Team Assignment Form (WAS 104), Team Debriefing Form (WAS 110), Sketch Grid Map, and FEMA’s Resident Accountability Form and Incident Command System Form: Activity Log (ICS 214) during tabletop exercises and field exercises to demonstrate how proper planning, preparation, practice, and performance aid in the overall management of complicated wide area search functions.

We also learned acronyms like LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) to maintain structural collapse awareness, and standardized GPS waypoint markings (seen below) used for situational updates and archival incident documentation.

Standardized GPS Waypoint markings. Photos by Brendan O'Neill.

During the class, we learned a wide range of topics used to make difficult wide area search operations more systematic, and thus easier to manage. These included Search Tactics, Marking Systems, Exterior Search Markings, Victim Markings, and Wilderness Search Markings.

We also learned techniques for managing the geography of a search, like sketching a map of your search areas and defining smaller search areas (numbered segments) within a larger area (alphabetical divisions). We about the United States National Grid (USNG) system, a great tool for mapping locations -- even without landmarks -- that can be accurate to 1 meter (when using the 10-digit system).

Other essential skills that we learned during the course included search management, resource management, victim management, and hand-off and brief/debrief up the ICS chain.

All in all, the three-day training overview was presented in an easy-to-understand fashion, and left this CERT volunteer better able to understand what is required to manage a wide area search operation. I'm looking forward to the next Wide Area Search class that Fairfax County CERT is planning on offering in October, 2015: Search & Rescue in a Community Disaster (PER 334).

A few of the Fairfax County CERTs who participated in the Wide Area Search training (L-R): Brendan O’Neill, James Sobecke, Jonathan Kiell, and Edgar Rodriquez.

Brendan O’Neill is volunteer Logistics Coordinator for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at logistics@fairfaxcountycert.org.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sign Up to Be Part of the CERT Community Assessment Program (a.k.a. Windshield Surveys)

In the event of a major countywide disaster, like a widespread flood, hurricane, or derecho storm, first responders will have their hands full responding to calls to protect life and property.

And when the Fire Department does get a chance to do its Rapid Assessments (informally known as "windshield surveys") to figure out how hard the county has been hit... well, Fairfax County covers over 400 square miles. That's a lot of territory.

So how can decision makers in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) get the timely and accurate reports they need to make informed decisions? Can trained CERTs help out?

A look at the damage assessment process, and how CERTs might fit in. Photos by Joe Loong

You Bet CERTs Can Help!
This is where trained CERTs can play a role. Fairfax County is trying out a model where, after major disasters, CERTs equipped with their personal smartphones would be activated to look for damage in their immediate neighborhoods, and send reports back to the EOC. This information would be collected as aggregated statistics for decision-making, and for reporting to state authorities to help inform requests for federal aid.

In this model, 12-24 hours after a disaster (or when conditions were determined to be safe), the EOC would send a message out to registered and trained CERTs via a smartphone app. The CERTs would then go out into their local areas (staying within "wheelbarrow distance" of their homes), and use their smartphones to take pictures and send geocoded text messages reporting damage back to the EOC. (If they encountered any fires or medical emergencies, CERTs would call 911.)

Earlier this month, a test group of Fairfax County CERTs participated in a pilot class to train on the system. After identifying some areas for refinement and improvement, the Community Assessment training is now being rolled out to the general CERT membership.

Be a Part of the Program: Register Now!
If you're interested in taking part in the program, there will be two training opportunities starting in August at the McConnell Public Safety and Transport Operations Center (MPSTOC), right down the road from the Fire Academy:

* Wednesday, August 5, 7-9PM

* Wednesday, August 12, 7-9PM

(Each class is limited to 20 participants, so register now!)

All participants must have completed CERT training, and must possess:

* A Smartphone (either Android or iOS)

* An account with Fairfax Alerts, Fairfax County's free emergency notification system. Sign up now for free if you don't have an account. (You will also need to know your current Fairfax Alerts username and password -- you'll need them in the class.)

If you want to save time in class, you can also download and install the free Everbridge Mobile Member app now. (Android users, go to the Google Play store; users of iPhones and iPads should go to the iTunes App Store.)

The test report I sent in shows up on the big screen in the Joint Operations Center at the Emergency Operations Center.
Now, the CERT Community Assessment Program is starting out by focusing on the basics.  The program is still being refined, and there are details that will need to be adjusted as we learn from the early training classes. Take advantage of the opportunity to help shape this unique role for CERTs, the only volunteer organization in Fairfax County currently being trained for this capability!


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, July 21, 2015

Registration Open: Fall CERT Training Classes Start August, September, and October

Registration is OPEN for Fall 2015 Fairfax County CERT classes starting in September and October. Learn disaster response skills that you can use to help yourself and your community in case of a major disaster. All classes are free, and students will receive CERT disaster response gear at no charge. Space is limited! Choose from classes at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy, or at two three locations in the community.
CERT students practice fire suppression as part of their training. Photo: Joe Loong
Click a class title to register now:

* [Registration Closed] CERT 99 meets at the Capital Baptist Church in Annandale on four Saturdays from 8AM-3PM. Class dates are August 1, 8, 22, and 29.

* CERT 100 meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy; class will meet on both Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are September 14, 16, 21, 23, 28, 30, and October 5 and 7.

* CERT 101 also meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy; class will meet on both Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are October 14, 19, 21, 26, 28, and November 2, 4, and 9.

* CERT 102 meets at the Old Firehouse Teen Center in McLean; class will meet Tuesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are September 22, 29, October 6, 13, 20, 27, and November 3. [Dates corrected.]

* CERT 103 meets at the Lorton Volunteer Fire Department in Lorton; class will meet Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are September 23, 30, October 7, 14, 21, 28, and November 4 and 11.

Interested? Learn more about training with Fairfax County CERT Training, and sign up now!

In CERT training, you'll get classroom and hands-on training in disaster response. You'll learn how to save lives with duct tape and Sharpie markers; conduct triage and disaster medical operations; put out small fires; perform search and rescue; prepare for disasters: and much, much more.

Training is free to all adults over 18, of all physical abilities, who live or work in Fairfax County.

To Register for CERT Training:

Signups for CERT training are managed through Fairfax County's volunteer management system. To register for free CERT Training, you'll need to set up a volunteer profile:

1. Here or above, click the title of the class you want: CERT 100, CERT 101, CERT 102, CERT 103
2. On the Opportunity Details page for the class, click "Apply."
3. Click the "New Volunteer Sign Up" button and create a profile by entering your information in the required fields. (If you already have a Fairfax County volunteer account, you can sign in with that.)

You can view an instructional video that walks you through the registration process: How to Register for Fairfax County CERT (skip ahead to the 2:20 mark).

If you have problems trying to register, email Jeffrey Katz at fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov 



In addition, here are some additional training opportunities and events:

Disaster Preparedness Seminar, Saturday, July 25, 9AM to 6PM. In this all-day session, students will participate in seminars on food storage, water, and hygiene and sanitation.

Arlington Getting It Right Seminar, Thursday, July 30 (reception, 5:30PM) to Friday, July 31 (8AM to 4PM). The workshop will provide tools to facilitate full integration and inclusion of all community members, including people with disabilities, in all aspects of emergency preparedness and response. Click to register.

CERT Outreach at the Middleridge National Night Out in 2014. Photo: Donna Hosek
Infectious Control and Blood-Borne Pathogens for CERT Responders, Saturday, August 1st, 8:30 to 10 AM. This class will expand the knowledge base of infection control precautions that should be practiced during patient-handling situations, and give an overview of infectious disease-causing organisms that CERT providers could potentially encounter due to different types of disasters.


National Night Out, the annual community-building event, happens Tuesday, August 4. It's a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and talk to them about CERT (including about our upcoming CERT classes in September and October). If you're interested in representing Fairfax County CERT at your community's National Night Out event and would like some brochures, please email Char at Outreach@fairfaxcountycert.org.

Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals, Saturday, August 8, 1PM to 5PM. This class is offered by the Red Cross, which will prepare participants in opening, organizing, operating, and closing Red Cross disaster shelters. To register:
  1. Click the course registration link 
  2. You will be directed to a login/registration page on the Red Cross's SABA/EMBARC system. You'll need to create an account.

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

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  http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fr/cert/cert.htm.


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 Teams@fairfaxcountycert.org.

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 blog@fairfaxcountycert.org.


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

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.

IMG_3467
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 blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

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 blog@fairfaxcountycert.org