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

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