Thursday, July 17, 2014

Welcome, New CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 83

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fairfax County CERTs Get Shocking Demonstration From Dominion Power

[Editor's note: Tuesday night, severe thunderstorms swept through the D.C. area, knocking out power to over 92,000 homes. In CERT training, we learn what to do when we find hazards -- including downed electrical wires -- at a disaster scene: Don't mess with them! But what if it's your job? On July 1 (in a class also notably rescheduled due to thunderstorms), Dominion Power representatives gave a high voltage safety demonstration to CERTs. CERT Howard M. Kaye shares his recap.]

One CERT Member’s Review of Dominion Power’s High Voltage Safety Class
This was not what I was expecting. I suppose that’s good for CERT. I was expecting a classroom lecture with a PowerPoint show. We were never in a classroom: We signed in just inside the Fire Academy High Bay, then all went outside for the demonstration.

The Dominion demonstration trailer. It's hooked up to live current from the power grid. Photo: Carlos Santiso, Fairfax County CERT Class 73.
Three gentlemen from Dominion Power with a trailer full of high voltage lines, transformers, and fuses on power poles provided our class setting. They demonstrated the hazards that high voltage equipment can present in both everyday and emergency situations, as well as the safety gear that their personnel use to handle it.

A Cooking Demonstration?

They first began by demonstrating what 6,800 volts from a primary line will do to a hot dog:

Hot dog gets zapped. Video: Carlos Santiso.

The hot dog was well done with the first touch of the line, but they recooked it for any who may not have been paying attention. This was not a cooking class, so none of us were ready with relish and a bun. (How unprepared we were!)

Hot dog at the moment of ignition. Photo: Carlos Santiso.

A secondary line, we were told, would have less than 600 volts. That’s still plenty of power to zap people. Remember, that hot dog was just a metaphor for us. CERT members and non-CERT members alike could get cooked just as fast as that hot dog!

Panoramic view of the demonstration and CERT attendees. Photo: Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
After the hot dog, demonstrations simulated a tree on a power line, a car hitting a pole, a ladder hitting a live wire, and other hazards, like those of improperly wired generators… Questions were asked and answered.

Reporting Problems
We were asked to report power problems by calling 866.DOM.HELP (866-466-4357) and supplying an address or pole number. The pole number, which is specific to the equipment on that pole, can be found on the band that wraps around the pole, or on a label running downward.

Any of this information may be reported, BUT don’t get dangerously close to downed or damaged lines to read those pole numbers.

CERT attendees definitely paid attention to the demonstration. Photo: Jeffrey Katz.
In fact, the Virginia High Voltage Safety Act limits how close people may legally get to these high voltage hazards. From what I understood in this class, the legal distance of 20 feet is just not safe enough! Step potential could shock you from 40 or 50 feet. Storm or accident-damaged lines could pose a hazard from overhead lines coming down or underground lines exposed upward. You can not tell that a line is dead. Only the professionals can check and determine that a damaged line is safe.

Sometimes you can't even see the hazard in broad daylight. I mentioned a situation that happened in my neighborhood a week after Snowmegeddon. A plow finally came to clear our road and pushed so much snow that it moved one of those green boxes of high voltage equipment loose from a neighbor’s lawn. A week after the storm, we got our road cleared and a power outage, to boot! But we could not see any damaged equipment or exposed wires—all we saw was snow.

My takeaway is Stay Away!

Howard M. Kaye, Fairfax County CERT Class 8, is a professional photographer in Burke. You may contact him at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fairfax County CERTs Train for Trains at WMATA-CERT Exercise

[Editor's note: Earlier this year, Fairfax County CERTs attended training classes held by the Washington, D.C. Metro Transit Police, under a program that teaches CERTs how, in event of emergency, to help themselves and their fellow transit riders until first responders arrive.

On Saturday, June 14, those students underwent a training exercise designed to test their new knowledge. Carlos Santiso, Fairfax County CERT Class 74, shares his photos and account of the training.]

The WMATA-CERT Exercise is part of the training provided by the Metro Transit Police to CERT members. The class training previous to this exercise teaches us how to react to emergencies ranging from rail safety to identification of terrorist activity.

Fairfax County CERTs during the pre-exercise briefing. All photos by Carlos Santiso.
This exercise is the culmination of the training and consists of a classroom presentation/briefing and two drills.

A view of "The Rollover Rig."
The first drill takes place on a "derailed" train car where its inclination can be changed at will by the trainers.

Rings around the train car allow the inclination to be controlled by trainers.

The exercise asks for the rescue of victims (mannequins) inside the car, with the challenge of extricating them while fighting the steep incline of the vehicle.

The incline adds to the challenge of maneuvering a mannequin between seats.
The other exercise is performed in a "tunnel simulator" where two Metro cars have suffered an accident. While looking for victims (actors) and checking out for hazards, the challenges are the damage suffered by the cars, the dark environment, and the smoke in the tunnel.

Students in the dark, smoky tunnel simulator.
According the Metro Police, there is no other facility like this one in the U.S.

Participants in the drills were CERT teams from Fairfax County; Arlington County; the City of Alexandria; Washington, DC; and Montgomery County, Maryland.

CERTs from multiple area jurisdictions participated in the exercise.
A difference to note: Although we used our hardhats, vests, and gloves, we were asked not to use our backpacks. The reason was to pretend we were there just on a normal day's commute when the tragedy happened. The only tool we were to use was our knowledge.

This is a unique opportunity to increase our level of preparedness (and it’s fun too!)

Fairfax County CERTs pose in front of the rollover simulator.
If you didn't take it yet, don’t miss the next one!

[See more photos from this and other exercises on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page. The next WMATA training class for Fairfax County CERTs is tentatively scheduled for September 2014. To take the free training course, you must have completed CERT training, be an active CERT and Metro rider, and be a U.S. citizen over 18. For more information about this and other CERT training opportunities, visit and search for "CERT". ]

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Try This One Simple Trick to Make Yourself More Prepared*

What's one concrete step Fairfax County residents can take right now to increase their emergency preparedness?

Sign up for free emergency alerts from Fairfax County's updated emergency alert system, Fairfax Alerts.

Rolling out today, Fairfax Alerts is the county's system for sending you alerts for severe weather, traffic, and other emergencies. And you can get them the way you want to receive them: text message, email, smartphone app, and even landline phone.
Fairfax Alerts logo
Fairfax Alerts replaces the previous CEAN alerting system; if you had alerts set up on CEAN (which is shutting down in October), you'll need to set up a new account on Fairfax Alerts. Here's the message they sent out:

Fairfax County has transitioned to its new and improved “Fairfax Alerts” system, as of today June 19, 2014. We encourage all CEAN users to visit to register for the new system.

Some Fairfax Alerts features include:

• Choose to receive traffic updates, emergency alerts and county government notifications.
• Choose automatic weather notifications for up to five (5) geo-targeted locations and the ability to set quiet periods for chosen weather alerts.
• Add up to ten (10) delivery methods such as email, cell phone, home phone and text messages.
• Mobile application available via iPhone or Android devices.
• Fairfax Alerts is FREE. You may incur charges from your cell phone company if you have a per-call or per message limit on your mobile device.

For additional information about Fairfax Alerts, please visit and share with family, friends and co-workers!

Fairfax Alerts: If we can’t reach you, we can’t alert you!
Questions about Fairfax Alerts click
Like the message says, you can customize your alerts for specific locations, as well as for the types of alerts you want to receive. For example, in the screenshot below, in my Severe Weather Alerts, I've skipped warnings and watches for excessive heat, freezes, and hurricanes (because we usually get a few days' warning from regular news), but kept thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings (which can happen very quickly).

Screenshot of the Fairfax Alerts customization screen.

Check out answers to Frequently Asked Questions and register now for Fairfax Alerts.

Remember, the 3 steps for being prepared for emergencies are:

1. Make a plan
2. Have a kit
3. Stay informed

Setting up Fairfax Alerts is a great way to do #3, staying informed.

p.s. Sorry for the clickbait headline, but it's actually an adapted version of something I heard FEMA administrator Craig Fugate say at a preparedness conference: He asked us all to do one thing on the spot to increase our preparedness, which was download the FEMA mobile app. And we did.

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 29, 2014

Action Alert: Download the FEMA Disaster Reporter App and Share Your CERT Selfie!

Fairfax County CERTs -- you can help raise the profile of Fairfax County CERT, just by taking a selfie!

Your humble blogger, taking a selfie to upload with the FEMA mobile app.
  1. Download the FEMA smartphone app (available free for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices)
  2. Use the app's Disaster Reporter feature to take a photo: It should be a self portrait of you wearing your CERT gear; a pic of you and your emergency preparedness kit; or one from a previous CERT drill or exercise. (Note: You can only upload geotagged photos.)
  3. Add a caption and description to your photo and share it using the app.
Special Note: If you can upload your photo by noon ET on Thursday, May 29, your photo may be seen in a briefings for high-level federal officials... and perhaps even the President! (If you can't make it by noon, you can still upload your CERT selfie through June 6.)

The FEMA mobile app's Disaster Reporter submission screen.

Background: As part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate is challenging all CERTs to download FEMA's mobile app, and use its Disaster Reporter feature to take a CERT selfie and upload it.

Administrator Fugate wants to literally put CERT teams "on the map" (take a look at what other CERTs have uploaded); show how crowdsourced information can be used to help emergency responders; and use the CERT selfies in demonstrations and briefings showing the capabilities of CERT and hard-working CERT volunteers.

Once you've taken and shared your CERT selfie, try out the other features of the FEMA app, which is an easy way for CERTs and non-CERTs alike to instantly increase their emergency preparedness knowledge and get resources useful before, during, and after a disaster.

So, what are you waiting for? Share your CERT selfie, and help raise the profile of CERT and Fairfax County CERTs!

(p.s. If you don't already get email updates from FEMA, sign up now: Get free updates from FEMA via email or text message)

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

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Save on CHAINSAWS (and Duct tape, Flashlights, and More) During Virginia Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, May 25 to 31, 2014

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day Holiday weekend; I also wanted to remind you that today marks the beginning of National Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 25-31).

Even though the weather right now is terrific, remember that hurricane season in the US starts June 1!

To help people prepare, the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center will feature a different hurricane preparedness video every day this week, which you can see in the embedded player below, or on their YouTube channel:

What About Chainsaws? You Promised Chainsaws!

This week also marks the Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, where you can build or restock your 72-hour-emergency kit and get other hurricane and disaster preparedness supplies without having to pay sales tax.

CERTs will no doubt be interested in items like:
  • First aid kits
  • Duct tape, rope, and tarps
  • Weather radios and two-way radios
  • Flashlights, lanterns, headlamps, and glow sticks
  • Batteries and cell phone chargers
  • Fire extinguishers
  • And bigger-ticket items like portable generators, and for the first time, chainsaws!
You talk to me...
Chainsaw photo by Flickr user Stf.O. Used under Creative Commons: BY.
You can see the full list of qualifying items embedded below, as well as at the Virginia Department of Taxation page.

Shop smart, be safe, and have a great holiday weekend!

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Demoing Duct Tape Triage Tags and Dashboards at the Emergency Management Institute

Here's a dispatch from Fairfax County CERT Assistant Volunteer Lead Anita Van der Merwe, who, along with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's Dana Powers, is taking a training course at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland:
Asst. Volunteer Lead Anita Van der Merwe demonstrates duct tape triage tags and dashboards. Photo: Dana Powers.
I am taking the CERT "Train the Trainer" class at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg Maryland this week.

There are 41 students in the class from all over the country. Many of the students are the program managers for their CERT programs.

The Course Manager saw a demo I did in my breakout group and asked me to present it to the full class, which also includes 4 FEMA instructors.

I covered the Fairfax County way of using duct tape for tagging the injured: desktop on one leg, tags on the other. It was well received, and there were good questions.

Go Fairfax! Go duct tape!
Good work, Anita! Here's a portion of her demonstration, which is available on the Fairfax County CERT YouTube Channel (which is a thing -- don't forget to subscribe to our channel to get notified when we post new videos):


Why Duct Tape?

Now, why does Fairfax County CERT use duct tape and magic markers (we recommend Sharpie-brand retractable markers, for easy, one-handed use) to tag and record patient information, when there are purpose-built triage tags already used by first responders?

The simple answer is: Triage tags (and triage tape, and colored flagging tape, and...) are great, but citizen responders are probably not going to have those specialized items handy during a disaster, whereas you can find magic markers and duct tape just about anywhere.

And once you're trained using the "duct tape tag and dashboard" method, it's easy to adapt what you've learned to other methods.

About EMI Training

CERT groups in the DC metro area are lucky we have the Emergency Management Institute fairly close by (it's only an hour-and-a-half drive away). Anita and Dana are taking the "Train the Trainer" course, which teaches CERT leaders how to train others in CERT skills.

The EMI offers specialized training for all sorts of emergency management and first responder types. Trained, committed CERTs have the opportunity to take EMI courses at no charge -- though you first need to get approval from our sponsoring organization, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Of course, the EMI has lots of other courses useful for CERTs that you can take from the comfort of your own home -- check out the EMI's Independent Study Program, where you can take courses on the emergency manager role, the Incident Command System (ICS), and much, much more.

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