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.

* [CLASS FULL] 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.