Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fairfax County CERT Wins Volunteer Fairfax 2017 Volunteer Service Award

The Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was selected as the outstanding Fairfax County Government Volunteer Program for 2016 at the annual Volunteer Fairfax awards breakfast held at The Waterford in Springfield on April 21, 2017.

CERT, a Citizen Corps program managed by the county’s Fire and Rescue Department, prepares county citizens to safely help themselves, their families, and their communities during major emergencies when first responders are delayed or overwhelmed due to the size or nature of the emergency.

Fairfax County CERT representatives accept the 2017 Volunteer Service Award for Fairfax County Volunteer Program. Photo via Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department (@ffxfirerescue)
Some highlights for the Fairfax County CERT program for 2016 which led to their award include:
  • Donating almost 22,000 volunteer hours by 621 active CERT volunteers, for an estimated value to the county of over $550,000
  • Delivering 10 community-based CERT classes, taught by CERT volunteer instructors, at government centers, churches, Ft. Belvoir, and similar venues
  • Assisting the professional Fire and Rescue Academy instructors in teaching six CERT classes at the Fire and Rescue Academy
  • Training 226 new CERTs in those six classes, enhancing Fairfax County’s resiliency by expanding the community of prepared, self-sufficient citizens, ready to help their neighbors in a disaster
  • Hosting and participating in 57 continuing education classes for CERT volunteers during the year
Unique accomplishment for the Fairfax County CERT program for 2016 included hosting CERTCON 2016, a two-day conference for CERTs in the mid-Atlantic/National Capital Area region; teaching a Pet First Aid/CPR class in support of establishing a Fairfax County Community Animal Response Team (CART); and assisting the City of Fairfax/American Red Cross and Volunteer Fairfax in smoke detector testing and installation after a fatal fire in the Comstock neighborhood.

CERTs also served as role players in the National Guard’s 2016 Sovereign Guardian exercise, Virginia Task Force 1’s re-certification exercise, and a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Silver Line Metro train drill. These and other exercises and drills supported by Fairfax County CERT members enhanced realism, helped build first responder critical skills, and ensured their readiness to respond to emergencies.

Additionally, CERT volunteers partnered with the county’s Health Department and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) in the first-ever Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER). CERTs participated in both CASPER training and the conduct of CASPER surveys within the community.

CERTs trained in applying trauma simulation make-up (moulage), continued to provide services for local, state, and federal public safety and emergency management organizations. During county EMT classes and examinations and CERT exercises, they created realistic injuries for first responders and CERTs to treat, improving the training experience.

2016 also saw an increase in CERT volunteers obtaining their amateur radio (Ham) radio licenses, and maintaining proficiency through monthly radio net testing, significantly expanding the county’s volunteer emergency communications resources.

Finally, CERT volunteers participated in 39 annual events throughout Fairfax County, providing outreach and operational support to events that included Celebrate Fairfax, Herndon Festival, Fall for Fairfax, Springfield Bridge Walk, Burke Center Festival (Ready-Set-Know), National Night Out, Fire Station Open Houses, and Fairfax Station Railroad Museum’s First Responder Day, to name a just few.

For these and many more contributions, Fairfax County’s CERT program is well-deserving of this award from Volunteer Fairfax for 2016. Well done, and may you continue to do great things to support the county in the future.

Susy Legerwood, CERT Class 4, is Moulage Team Lead. Steve Richardson, CERT Class 14, is a ham (KK4GOR) and Logistics Lead.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When 911 Isn't Coming: Community Emergency Response

We've all seen a movie or read a book where the rugged protagonist fights his or her way through a caustic post-apocalyptic landscape, banding together with others in similarly dire situations. Urgency and adrenaline often drive the plot, but it is always tapered with a sense of wonder — what must it feel like to strike out on your own with little to no guidance? What would a society with no structure look like, and how might we survive when there is no one else to call on?

You don't need to wait until the end of the world to ask these questions. Real disasters happen every day — and sometimes these disasters can become massively disruptive for emergency services. In many situations, this can leave you and everyone in your neighborhood to fend for yourselves in a dangerous environment for an extended period of time. But when 911 isn't there to help, who is?

By training as a member of your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the answer could quite easily be you.

What is a Community Emergency Response Team?

In short, a Community Emergency Response Team is a group of community members that train to support emergency or disaster response operations in the case that emergency services become overwhelmed. While CERT members are not actively involved with emergency services during everyday operations, these volunteers are a vital asset to first responders across the country.

The CERT program was officially created in 1993 when FEMA made training available across the entire United States. As a result, local teams began sprouting up immediately. The idea was that a better educated populace could more effectively save themselves, their families, and others from the consequences of a disaster — therefore contributing to the overall wellness of an affected area. The training program focuses on an all-hazard approach, covering subjects from light search and rescue to disaster medical treatment. Most importantly, it focuses on providing the greatest good for the greatest number.

Why should I join my local CERT?

The training not only allows an individual to become a leader in the wake of a disaster, but also a leader in everyday life. By learning skills such as organizing a response team, recognizing and treating life threatening emergencies, and making decisions under pressure, you can develop into a vital resource for your community.

After completing the basic training, your local team might also offer courses that delve into different topics such as emergency radio communications, wide-area searches, and disaster map and compass techniques. If interested, volunteers can often train to become instructors or help out with various operational functions within the team.

In addition, CERT training is an excellent gateway into volunteering in a greater capacity with emergency services. CERT volunteers are not a deployable resource, serving for the most part as a passive asset for disaster response, but the training offers insight into the world of firefighting and emergency medical services. With an emphasis on light search and rescue, CERT classes can also prepare a trainee to join a state-registered search and rescue team.

Where can I find resources to learn more about CERT?

The best way to learn more is to go straight to the source: your local team. By entering your zip code into FEMA's CERT tracker, you can find which teams are closest to you and learn how to join. You can also click here to view more about the training, and how the program continues to be a useful asset across the United States.

In the end, joining your local team is as good for your own development as it is for the community. You will develop leadership skills, learn how to help your family and friends in a disaster, and figure out just how versatile duct tape can be. Make a difference in the way your community responds to disasters tomorrow — join your local CERT today.

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse and is reprinted with permission. The next Fairfax County CERT training (Class 127) starts May 22, Mondays & Wednesdays at the Fire & Rescue Academy in Fairfax. Limited space for this free training is still available — for more information and to register, please visit]

Matthew Martinez is a digital marketer and graduate of Fairfax County CERT Class 121.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

CERT Emergency Communications (Amateur Radio) Workshop, April 22 and May 20

Here are a few items that should be of interest to our CERT Hams (and Ham CERTs):

* First, here's an article from Emergency Management magazine, "Emergency Communications Driving Increase in Amateur Radio Operators," which shouldn't be a surprise to hams or CERTs. (The story also urges emergency managers to form relationships with hams and integrate amateur radio into their plans and facilities.)

* Next, Volunteer Coordinator Jeffrey Katz created a map of self-identified Fairfax County CERTs who have ham licenses (the map has a 1.5 mile buffer around the CERT's location). As you can see, we have much of the county covered. (Not sure if you're on the map? Get in touch with Jeffrey):

Fairfax County CERT Hams

* Next, the next CERT Emergency Communications Workshop is this Saturday, April 22. This event is open to anyone who has an interest in amateur radio and emergency communications. (You don't even have to have a ham license yet.)

Date/Time: Saturday, April 22, 2017 // 1:00pm (1300) to 3:00pm (1500) - radio test 3:00-4:00pm

Location: Burke Volunteer Fire Station 414 (Training Room), 9501 Old Burke Lake Rd, Burke, VA 22015

Cost: FREE

Activities: Introduction to Handheld radios and repeaters; programming of Baofeng and other radios; setting up a emergency radio "go-kit"; development of basic communications plans; setting up a station; and more. All are welcome: Click to Register

For More Information: Contact James at

(The next workshop will be May 20, 2017.)

-- 73 (For hams, 73 is an abbreviated signoff that means "best regards.")

Joe Loong is a Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT. If you're interested in contributing to the blog, email him at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

CERTs Attend 30th Anniversary CERT Conference

The 6th Annual National Capital Region CERT Conference is coming up in 10 days (Sept. 24 & 25), but Fairfax County CERTs also represented at the 30th Anniversary National CERT Conference in Universal City, California.

The CERT contingent consisted of Missy, Anita, and our special representative, CERTainly Jeffrey:

Fueling up for the big trip. (What, no nuts?)
Buckled in and ready to go!
Only the best for CERTainly Jeffrey... exit row, because he's trained.
Napping during the flight...
Ready to paint the town duct tape gray!
We'll see if we can get some thoughts about the conference from our intrepid travelers, but if you come to CERTCON 2016, you can ask them yourselves!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CERTs Participate in Metro Exercise UNDER Tysons Corner

Early Sunday morning, June 26, a group of about two dozen Fairfax County CERTs, along with over a hundred other volunteer actors, boarded a Metro train at the new Greensboro Station in Tysons Corner as part of a quarterly Metro emergency exercise.

Fairfax County CERTs who served as victim actors during the Metro exercise. Photos courtesy of Jonathan Kiell.
The train left the station and headed toward the District, but did not get very far before it stopped in a tunnel. Power on the train shut down, leaving only emergency lights on.

Shortly after that, the passengers began to notice smoke -- theatrical smoke was used to enhance the realism of the exercise.

Responders in the tunnel help evacuate victim actors from the stopped train.
Eventually, the order was given for those who could evacuate without assistance to move toward the back of the train, which was closest to the nearest station stop. Passengers exited the train and walked through the tunnel back to the station, while responders from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and Metro (as well as other emergency personnel) provided assistance to those who could not evacuate on their own.

The exercise provided an interesting learning opportunity for the victim actors as well as valuable training for the first responders. And the passengers were not charged for the train ride!

Jonathan Kiell is a graduate of Fairfax County CERT Class 70 and is one of the Fairfax County CERT Local Team Coordinators; you can reach him at

Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Fatal Fire, Fairfax County CERTs Assist in Smoke Detector Campaign

[Editor's Note: After a fatal house fire on June 7, Fairfax County CERTs responded to a call for assistance from the Fairfax City Office of Emergency Management, to help canvas the affected neighborhood for a smoke detector campaign. The following is CERT Vincent Scott's activity report, originally sent to the members of his Local CERT Team. ]

Photo from the City of Fairfax Fire Department Facebook page, via CERT Outreach Lead Char, who served as CERT IC for the event.
In the early morning of June 7, Fairfax City FD Station 33 responded to a fire in a townhome of a multi-unit housing complex. An elderly man appears to have fallen asleep while smoking. Unfortunately, the gentleman succumbed to the smoke/fire.  The victim's smoke alarm did activate, but did not wake him. A neighbor was awakened by the alarm, called the Fire Department, and alerted other neighbors in the building. In all, it could have been much worse had the neighbor not engaged.

The Fairfax City FD decided that they were going to take on the task of checking every fire detector throughout that complex. They asked for Fairfax County CERT assistance, and a group of approximately 15 CERTs from throughout the county responded to the call.

Approximately seven teams of two CERTs each subdivided the multiple building complex and began knocking on doors. Their assigned mission: To gain occupant permission to confirm installation of smoke detectors and to test installed smoke detectors. Where there was no answer upon knocking (or if the occupant declined), an informational brochure was provided.

As the CERT Teams canvassed the area, several Fairfax Fire Department teams deployed immediately following the CERTs. Where no smoke detectors were found, new smoke detectors were installed by the Fairfax Fire Department free of charge. Where inoperable smoke detectors were noted, the fire squad attempted to reactivate with new batteries, or installed a new smoke detector. All addresses and installs/repairs were documented for the record.

Bill Terry and myself from TEAM 22033 responded in support of the larger CERT contingent. Bill and I personally checked smoke alarms in 27 homes. I don't have the specific operation-collated data, but if you extrapolate from our experience, the overall CERT contingent probably inspected in excess of 160 homes.

Bill and I found several homes with multiple smoke detectors, one or more of which failed. However, the most eye-opening finding was one home with zero smoke detectors installed (who would have thought in this day and age) and one home with five smoke detectors installed... none of which worked (to the occupants surprise).

This operation was a success. The residents became better informed and we now know that each residence has at least one working smoke detector. The time effort for this event was less than three hours, but I believe the effort resulted in big dividends in the enhancement of the community's safety and Fire Department/CERT community relations. Personally, I found my participation very satisfying in that I know that we made a difference.

I know everyone is busy. However, when such an operational call presents itself, I would encourage your participation. The feeling of community contribution and making a difference you receive is well worth the time and effort.

Hope to see everyone at our TEAM 22033 Social/Meeting on Jun. 23.  I am still taking RSVPs, for head count/reserved seating purposes.

Best regards, Vince

Vincent Scott is a graduate of Fairfax County CERT Class 73 and current member of the Local CERT Team for ZIP code 22203. 

If you have questions about the Local CERT Team program, or are interested in joining with or starting a Local CERT Team in your area, please send an email to the Fairfax County CERT Local Team Coordinators at

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are You, Your CERT Team and Your Neighborhood Prepared?

[Editor's note: As we prepare for what looks to be a historic blizzard for the region, here's a note that the Fairfax County CERT Local Team Coordinators sent to their Local Team leaders.]

Members of the Wesleyan University Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT) clear out paths around emergency exits after a February 2013 winter storm.
At yesterday evening’s Monthly Program Meeting at the County Government Center, about twenty CERTs discussed IDEAS & OPPORTUNITIES regarding the approaching snow storm. This note shares key portions of that discussion and includes a number of recommendations and opportunities. (Note that the monthly CERT program meetings are open to all, and are a very good opportunity to stay connected with -- and even influence -- what is going on in our CERT program.)

First, the two CERT events scheduled for this weekend (training on Saturday 1/23 and the Pot Luck on Sunday 1/24) have been cancelled.

Second, we discussed PREPARATIONS and PRECAUTIONS regarding what could be a fairly substantial and disruptive snow storm. Please modify and share this with your CERT team and your neighborhoods as appropriate:
  • Check, and supplement as necessary, your food and consumables; don’t wait until the last minute to stock up. Include batteries, fuel, and other supplies that may become scarce or unavailable during and immediately after the storm. If the power goes out, gas pumps, ATMs, and charge card readers may not work. A supply of small bills for emergency purchases should be part of the plan.
  • Anticipate power outages and safe alternatives for keeping the family (and the pipes in the house) warm.
  • Plan the best location and orientation for parking cars; avoid impeding the snow plows on your street. Of course, stay off the roads as much as possible.
  • If this storm does bring a lot of snow, consider clearing snow while it is falling to avoid overtaxing yourself.
Third, the coming storm provides OPPORTUNITIES to exercise your CERT team.  These include:
  • Forward some or all of this email to your team; modify as appropriate to make it relevant for your community.
  • Coordinate mutual team support efforts – this is a good opportunity to exercise and demonstrate the value of an active local CERT presence.
  • Plan and exercise your team FRS and HAM capability - establish a communications plan including pre-determined frequencies and contact times. Can you reach everyone? Have phone numbers or email addresses changed? Additional HAM classes are being offered - encourage team members to get involved.
  • Call selected team members to coordinate your ideas and gather any input they might have to enhance your CERT preparations and initiatives.
Fourth, consider that this snow storm offers OPPORTUNITIES to serve our Neighborhoods and highlight the value of CERT Training and the CERT Program.  Several ideas that surfaced include:
  • Forward some or all of this email to your local HOA (or equivalent) and neighbors – make it clear that the local CERT team is helping to coordinate local storm preparedness.
  • In advance of the storm, as well as during (if safe) and after, check with those neighbors who might require assistance due to infirmities or special needs. Be a great neighbor!
  • This storm may provide an opportunity to expand your local CERT team by helping your neighbors recognize the value of CERT and emergency preparedness. There are quite a few new CERT classes already planned for the upcoming months – make sure your neighbors are aware of the CERT program and your local team; encourage your neighbors to get involved.
  • If you are part of the County Community Assessment team, look for a request from OEM for input of your local neighborhood situation.
  • Note that numerous CERTs in the County have volunteered to assist with their all-wheel drive vehicles if mobilized by OEM. Consider becoming involved in this effort.
  • Remember to keep neighborhood fire hydrants shoveled clear of snow.  Fire hydrants should have a three foot radius clear area so they are both accessible and easily visible if needed.  This may save precious minutes if a fire response is necessary.
Other ideas for preparation and recovery can be found at Ready Virginia (  If you have additional ideas or lessons learned, please share them with your team and feed them back to

Finally:  Stay safe and enjoy our weather if you can.

If you have questions about Local CERT Teams, or have not yet expressed your interest in joining or starting one in your area, please send an email to the Fairfax County CERT Local Team Coordinators at