Friday, April 17, 2015

GMU Students Complete CERT Training at the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Academy

For six weeks, 30 George Mason University students have been meeting in the campus Recreation and Athletic Complex for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, part of their coursework for HEAL 205 - Principles of Accident Causation and Prevention. (See our previous article on how CERT training fits into the GMU students' curriculum: CERT Training Prepares George Mason Students for the "Big & Bad.")

In classroom and hands-on training, the students have learned to deal with big emergencies where first responders might be delayed, including earthquakes, tornadoes, and active shooter events. Along the way, they've learned disaster response skills like how to assess, triage, and treat survivors of mass casualty events; how to use simple tests, duct tape, and rags to stop the "3 Killers" (obstructed airways, major bleeding, and shock) in 30 seconds or less; how to perform search and rescue in moderately damaged buildings; and most importantly, how to keep themselves safe while they help others.

Now, it's time to leave GMU and put those skills to the test in a graduation exercise on new and unfamiliar territory: the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy -- the very same facility where the county's firefighters and EMTs train.

The Actors Arrive
While the students get organized and put on their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), CERT staffers get busy applying moulage, or wound makeup, to the volunteer victim actors (many of whom are GMU students recruited for the occasion) portraying disaster survivors.

A few of the victim actors who participated in the drill. All are wearing moulage (wound makeup), simulating lacerations and impalement by debris (wood and glass). All photos: Joe Loong
With their fake wounds and acting skills, live human actors greatly increase the challenge (as well as the benefits) of the training exercise.

Facing the Fire
However, before the GMU CERT students begin the final exercise, they first must face off against an instructor-controlled fire, and put it out using a fire extinguisher:

CERT fire suppression teams consist of two people: One person to operate the extinguisher, and a buddy who watches out for hazards. Each student gets a chance to try both roles.

Also, as a perk of being at the Fire Academy, students get the chance to operate a fire hose:

GMU CERT students operate a fire hose outside the burn building, under the guidance of Fairfax County firefighters.

Facing the Scenario
With the preliminaries out of the way, the evening's main course begins. The drill's scenario: A tornado strikes the GMU campus, inflicting heavy damage. The GMU CERT students must go to a damaged dorm (represented here by Burn Building A), and must assess the scene, begin disaster operations, and help survivors until professional responders arrive.

The Command Staff sets up, establishing a Command Post, Medical area, and Logistics cache, as well as deploying teams of rescuers to size up the scene and determine if it's safe to begin search and rescue activities.

The Command staff track Rescue efforts and issue orders at the Incident Command Post.

When cleared to begin, Rescue teams are assigned to search specific areas of the darkened, damaged building. When they find survivors, the GMU students must quickly assess each one, treating only life-threatening bleeding, sucking chest wounds, or closed airways, then give each survivor a Green, Yellow, Red, or Black tag (indicating their treatment priority) and move on to the next survivor. 

CERT Rescue team members assist a survivor and record her status to report back to Command.

Because this is a mass casualty scenario, the student rescuers have a goal of spending only 30 seconds on each survivor, so they can do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. After they complete their initial task, they report back to the Incident Commander, who assembles a picture of the overall disaster scene, and uses that information to issue followup assignments.

CERT rescuers use simple tests, like squeezing fingernails to check perfusion, to quickly determine a survivor's status. They also treat major bleeding with pressure dressings, as seen above.

Meanwhile, the Logistics team gathers needed supplies, including tarps, bandaging material, and stretchers, which transport teams will use to bring survivors back to Medical.

CERTs use a stretcher to transport a survivor back to Medical.

At first, the Medical area is quiet. However, as Rescue teams bring in survivors, each one needs to be reassessed, treated, and given ongoing care. As the disaster operation grows in size and complexity, so does the Medical area.

CERT rescuers deliver survivors to the Red-tag section of the Medical area.

For the GMU CERT students, the entire exercise scene is stressful, complicated, and confusing... just like in a real disaster. They utilize the skills they've learned in class to cope and adapt as they work to help survivors, while keeping themselves safe.

After the exercise concludes, the students meet to debrief and assess their performance. Then, there is cake.

GMU adjunct faculty member (and CERT) Nancy Chamberlain cuts cake for the newly minted CERTs.
Most of the GMU students will go on to the health or education fields, working in public schools or public facilities. Hopefully, they'll never need to employ the mass casualty response skills they learned in CERT. However, if something does occur, they'll be well-equipped to help themselves and others.

Congratulations to the new GMU student CERTs of Class 90, and special thanks to all the volunteer victim actors, CERT staffers, and GMU adjunct faculty member Nancy Chamberlain for her innovative approach in integrating CERT training into the curriculum.

For more photos from the exercise, check out the CERT Class 90 Final Exercise album on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.

Fairfax County CERT offers free training several times a year at the Fire Academy and locations throughout the community. The next Academy CERT class begins April 20, 2015, with another starting May 18. For more information and more upcoming dates, please visit About CERT Training.

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

Congratulations, CERT 91 & 92 Graduates

Not everyone in Fairfax County can come out to the Fire Academy for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. That's why our committed team of instructors will come to your location, to train your group, on your schedule... all completely free!

All you need to do is get a dozen people to sign up, and provide a facility where we can hold the training (like a community center, clubhouse, or meeting room).

James Sobecke, Volunteer Training Coordinator, passed along updates from two of the most recent CERT classes that took place in the community:
20 students completed the 20-hour CERT Basic training class on March 14, 2015. The class was held in the Tysons area of McLean, Virginia, over eight weekend morning and afternoon sessions of 2.5 hours each.

Seven of the students were members of the National Language Service Corps (NLSC), a Department of Defense program consisting of service-minded volunteers who make themselves available when there's a sudden, short-term need for language skills in support of any U.S. government agency.

All students received classroom instruction and hands-on training on basic emergency response skills, including disaster medical operations, light search-and-rescue, and fire suppression.

CERTs from Class 91 get ready to practice using fire extinguishers in the parking lot. Photo: Carlos Santiso
The last session consisted of a simulated disaster scenario exercise with four stations to test and demonstrate CERT skills. Live victim actors added realism and authenticity to the exercise, conducted in an office building setting.

The new CERTs of Class 91 pose with Volunteer Instructor James Sobecke (left, green shirt). Photo: James Sobecke.

17 new CERTs graduated from CERT Basic Class 92 on April 1, 2015, held in Burke, Virginia, with the support and assistance of the Burke Centre Conservancy. Class consisted of eight weeknight sessions of 2.5 hours each, and eight CERT volunteers assisted with the presentation of this class.

The majority of class members were Burke Centre residents, so they were conveniently training right in their own neighborhood. Also, since CERT training prepares residents to help themselves, their families, and their neighbors in the event of a disaster in their community, having CERT training out where people live makes perfect sense.

CERT students assist a simulated victim actor. Photo: James Sobecke
The class ended with a night-time indoor and outdoor exercise at the Oaks Community Center in Burke, and also featured live victim actors and four skills-testing stations.

Freshly minted graduates of CERT Class 92. Photo: Donna Hosek
If you're interested in getting CERT training for your homeowner's association, workplace, faith-based group, or other community organization, please email James Sobecke at

Please join me in congratulating all the new CERTs!

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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Want to Be a Survivor? 3 Victim Actor Opportunities!

We've got three victim actor opportunities coming up soon! Recent CERT graduates from Classes 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, and 92 are especially encouraged to role-play a survivor and take a look at things from the other side of the green vest.
Victim actors show off their wound makeup from the Spring 2014 final exercise. Photo: Joe Loong.
Get bloodied up in wound makeup and help CERT students practice their skills on real, live human beings in a realistic, stressful, simulated mass casualty incident!

The first two exercises are CERT graduation drills at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy in Fairfax, Virginia.
  • Monday, April 13, from 7PM-10PM. This is the final exercise for CERT students from the George Mason University class. There are only a few remaining victim actor slots;  RSVP required to Anita at if you're interested.
  • Thursday, April 30, from 7PM-10PM. This is the final exercise for CERT students from the Vienna class. Also please RSVP to Anita at
Again, RSVP Required: Please email Anita at

Victim Actor Requirements: 
  • 15 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.

The third victim actor opportunity was posted by Jeffery Katz, who writes:
We are looking for willing and able-bodied volunteers to play victims this year at the big USAR Exercise being held from April 24 - 26.

Any time they can offer to use would be greatly appreciated. You will need to be in a mindset that you are camping out for the time you are there, day or night. Some of you will be mobile victims and others will be used in other situations depending on the experience level we will need.  We won’t have those particulars until time gets closer.

If you would like to participate, please send an email to with your name and the date and time you would like to participate.

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Volunteer as a CERT for the World Police & Fire Games, Starting Soon

CERTs, we're counting down to the June 26 start of the Fairfax 2015 World Police and Fire Games, and we need to help recruit 4,000 volunteers to make sure that these are the most spectacular Games ever!

As a trained CERT with recognized skills, you have the special opportunity to serve as a Medical Volunteer.

If you're over 18, have completed the CERT training, have a current CPR/AED card, and are trained in basic First Aid, you're eligible to be a Medical Volunteer. (If not, don't worry -- you can still be a general volunteer.)

We're working hard to make sure CERTs who need CPR/AED and First Aid training will be able to get it before the Games. The next available classes are:
June 26 will be here before you know it. Sign up as a Medical Volunteer now!

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

CERT Training Prepares George Mason Students for the "Big & Bad"

It's a Monday night, and Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructors are in the Recreation and Athletic Complex of George Mason University's Fairfax campus, teaching 30 GMU students how to perform simple triage and rapid treatment in case of something "big and bad" -- like a mass casualty situation.

We're here because of Nancy Chamberlain, a GMU adjunct faculty member, Red Cross-certified safety instructor, wilderness first responder, trained CERT, and most importantly, instructor for the course HEAL 205 - Principles of Accident Causation and Prevention.

Instructor Nancy Chamberlain (second from left) with some of her students (from left), Sam Scullen, Ian Stewart, and Bobby Stanley. Photos: Joe Loong
As part of the class, the students are learning American Red Cross First Aid, CPR/AED, bloodborne pathogen safety, wilderness first aid, and of course, the full 25-hour CERT training.

According to Nancy, the reason for making CERT training a required part of the class is simple: Job preparation. Most of the students will go on to the health or education fields, working in public schools or public facilities. CERT training, which Nancy calls "Fabulous, very hands-on, very practical, very straightforward training," will prepare them if they're ever part of a large-scale emergency response environment, mass casualty scenario, active shooter incident, or severe weather emergency.

Plus, as Nancy says, CERT training gives the students skills that will be useful in their jobs,  daily lives, and social efforts in the community at large.

Fairfax County CERT Adjunct Instructor Rich Hall (blue shirt, center) leads a post-drill "hot wash" review with the CERT students and victim actors.
Nancy deserves thanks for her innovative way of incorporating CERT training into the preparedness curriculum, and for helping build the community's resilience by involving the future's leaders, today.

Fairfax County CERT provides training to groups at locations throughout the community year-round. If you represent a community group (like a homeowner's association, company, or other organization) that would like to receive free CERT training, have at least 12 people committed to train, and can provide a training space (like a community center or other facility), please contact for more information.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

CERT, AmeriCorps Hit the Ground to Increase Neighborhood Preparedness

[Editor's Note: Edgar Rodriguez, CERT Class 79, participated in a community canvassing event to get county residents thinking about preparedness. He shares his experience here.

CERT and AmeriCorps volunteers prepare to go canvassing. All photos: Edgar Rodriguez (seen here last row middle, wearing sunglasses.)

This past Saturday, March 21, 2015, Fairfax County CERT members joined AmeriCorps volunteers to participate in a community canvassing event held by the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management and Volunteer Fairfax.
The event, in the Burke community of Fairfax County, was one of many informative canvassing events where volunteers went door-to-door to encourage county residents to be more prepared for emergencies. 

The volunteers in their vests pose for a group shot.
We distributed packages which included easy guides to building emergency kits for home, vehicles, and the office, along with reminders to people to include medications and emergency supplies for their pets. We also encouraged neighbors to sign up with the county's notification system, Fairfax Alerts.

The package of preparedness materials given to residents.

This event was a great opportunity to do outreach in our community. For future events, OEM will continue to reach out to CERT, including the recently established Local CERT teams, to help spread the preparedness message to their communities.

Edgar Rodriguez, Deputy Logistics Officer with Fairfax County CERT, is retired from the U.S. Army. You can email him at

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The After-Action: Gathering Intel on Your Neighborhood

As a CERT, you might someday be called upon to do CERT things. And CERTs don't deploy to far-off lands... we are a resource for our communities: where we live, work, go to school, and live our lives.

So how well do you know your neighbors and your neighborhood, so you can better help when a disaster strikes?

As part of the follow-up to the Nov. 15 CERT 85 & 86 graduation full-scale exercise, a few of the CERTs who took part gave me access to the Google Group they used for planning, so I could see the archived discussions and get insights into their process.

Here are some of the actions they took, along with some lessons that you can apply to your own preparedness planning.

Christine and Mike (and Brad, not pictured) met at the Fire Academy meet some of their Class 86 counterparts, and also to discuss exercise preparations.

Action: To start, members of the Command Staff and other interested CERTs came together and decided to set up a Google Group, which they would use to organize, discuss strategies and tactics, share intelligence, coordinate logistics, and track tasks.

Lesson: Talk to your neighbors. You may have lived next to them for years, but how well do you know your neighbors? They'll be your most important resource in a crisis. You're not going to have the luxury of being surrounded by 30 like-minded people who've worked together through 25 hours of disaster training. Do you know which of your neighbors might have skills, equipment, or local knowledge that might be important in a disaster? How about those who might need special consideration during an emergency?

Learn who else is a CERT, who's prepared, and who would like to be. Then keep in touch with them. In addition to talking face-to-face, set up an online discussion group, forum, or listserv, and join a Local CERT Team, so you can talk and plan before an emergency hits.

Action: The CERTs started out by getting an overview (literally) of the Lorton training site, using aerial imagery from Google Maps.

Lesson: Look at the big picture. You don't have to have a camera-equipped drone (of course, it'd be cooler if you did), but you can check out satellite and aerial photos from the mapping service of your choice. It'll give you a different perspective on potential hazards and resources near you that you might not have noticed from ground level.

An annotated view of the Lorton site from outside the fence. Photo: Chris Dodge & Sean Putnam.

Action: Shortly afterwards, a group member spoke up, saying he'd previously trained at Lorton, and shared some warning about hazards on-site. Next, some of the CERTs went down to the site and took photos from outside the fence, which they annotated and shared with the group. (Later, the CERTs also got permission to actually go to the site and look around.)

Lesson: Find the ground truth. Find the people who've been around and know the area. If it's your neighborhood, it should be you... but you might need to look around with fresh eyes. Go around by car, and on foot. Ask yourself: In case of a disaster, what are the key ways to get into and out of the area? What are the bottlenecks that would hinder access in an emergency? Are there any alternate routes?

FEMA floodmap for the area around the Fairfax County Government Center.

Action: Next, the CERTs shared information they'd found from web searches about the Lorton training site, and about previous CERT final exercises (including posts from this blog and our Facebook page).

Lesson: Do your research. Search online for information about the hazards and resources in your area, which could include everything from; FEMA flood maps; locations of power lines, pipelines, fault lines, and landslide zones; fire and police stations and medical facilities. Also, check news articles to see what disasters your area has previously faced (including industrial accidents, fires, storms, etc.), and what the response was like.

Map of the Lorton site, drawn on a 6'x6' shower curtain. Photo: Chris Dodge.

Action: As they gathered info, the CERTs took the big overview picture and assigned numbers to the buildings on the site. Then, they started identifying tasks that needed to be done, and found people to do them.

Lesson: Establish a Common Operational Picture: Make sure you're all able to work off the same page, and that you understand the names of streets, buildings, and landmarks. Know the scope of the area you're dealing with and trying to prepare for. Then, when you identify tasks, determine who's responsible for getting them done.

Part of the inventory spreadsheet the CERTs used.

Action: The CERTs identified items they wanted to bring, which turned out to be a lot. They used a tracking spreadsheet to account for who was bringing what, which helped highlight gaps and also helped people make sure items were returned to their proper owners.

Lesson: Take inventory. Odds are, you probably won't have a common supply cache to draw from. But people will have resources they can share (if not loan) in times of emergency. We can see an example of this during power outages, where neighborhoods will come together and have a barbecue, so that perishable items don't go to waste. Knowing who has chainsaws, generators, cribbing material, and similar items will help neighbors help neighbors.

Division controllers using FRS radios during a Dec. 2014 CERT Emergency Communications exercise.

Action: The CERTs discussed using hand-held radios (both FRS and amateur band) for communications (though ultimately didn't use them since not many of the CERTs had trained with them).

Lesson: Have a communications plan. If you plan on using FRS or ham radios, set up a comm plan (including frequencies and call signs), then practice it. Or, if you're using phones, make sure you have each others' numbers. However, figure out how you can communicate needs and resources during an emergency -- especially if power and cell networks are disrupted. Be sure there are alternate plans in case the primary and secondary methods fall through.

CERTs setting up the Command Post during the Nov. 15 exercise.

Action: The CERTS had other discussion, speculation, suggestions, and planning, some of which ultimately went unused or was made irrelevant.

Lesson: Be flexible and resilient. You're not going to account for everything that might happen in a disaster. And that's okay... what you can do is set a baseline for your response and what you might reasonably expect to encounter, and when reality hits you in the face, adjust accordingly.

Do you have any examples of resources or actions you've taken to increase your community's preparedness? Please share in the comments.

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