Tuesday, December 31, 2013

CERTs: Are you "Ready" for 2014?

I think it's safe to say that we CERTs believe that we're better prepared for disasters than many of our friends, neighbors, and even family members. (Sometimes, we might even feel a bit smug about it.)

Then again, all too often, people find themselves falling victim to "Do as I say, not as I do" syndrome.

For 2014, resolve to do your part to use your CERT training to help your community (including your own family) be better prepared for disasters and emergencies.

Emergency Mommy: Put more meaning in your merry & give the gift of preparedness
Image by Flickr user emergencyinfobc, used under Creative Commons license.
But before you start going around asking people to "Resolve to Be Ready" in 2014 (which I hope you'll do... more on that in a moment), take a moment to look at your own preparedness:
  • Have you updated your family's communication plan in the past year? And have you reviewed it with your family?
  • Have you checked your 72-hour disaster supply kit, making sure no one's "borrowed" stuff from it over the past year, and checked to see that things like batteries, medical supplies, and prescription drugs are still good? (The same goes for additional kits, like in your car or workplace. And how about your CERT backpack?)
  • Have you stayed current in your disaster skills and knowledge? Taken refresher CERT training, or renewed your First Aid and CPR/AED certification? Downloaded the helpful smartphone apps from FEMA and American Red Cross, and bookmarked the FEMA mobile site? And liked or followed Fairfax County CERT on Facebook and Twitter?

Resolve for 2014

After you've reviewed your own family's preparedness, I hope you'll use your knowledge and leadership as a CERT to help your friends, neighbors, and community become better prepared in 2014. It can be as simple as posting a Facebook status asking people to check out Ready.gov's Prepared 2014 page, which reminds everyone that "Winging It" is not an emergency plan:

Together, let's make our friends, neighbors, and nation better prepared in 2014. Have a happy and safe New Year's holiday, and we look forward to seeing you in a prosperous and prepared 2014!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2014 Fairfax County CERT Training Classes Open for Enrollment

Fairfax County CERT is happy to announce the first batch of training activities for 2014, with 22 classes already scheduled and ready for enrollment, and more on the way!

2014 image by Flickr user artisrams, used under Creative Commons license.
See the class listings below. For full information and to register for a class, please visit the Fairfax County CERT site and follow the instructions shown here:

To Register for CERT Training:

Visit www.fairfaxcert.com and log in. If you don't have a training account, you'll need to register. After you've logged in:
  1. Click the "Training" tab in the navigation bar
  2. Select "Training Calendar"
  3. Click the right arrow (>>) to show the month you want
  4. Click on the name of the class you want on the date it's offered
  5. To sign up for a class, click the "Enroll" button next to the one you want. You'll receive a confirmation email at your registered address.
(Please note -- if you register for a class and later find out that you won't be able to attend, please take a moment to visit the site and unenroll: This will free up a slot allowing another CERT member to take the course.)
Important Technical Note: The FairfaxCERT.com site works best with Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Internet Explorer and mobile users may have problems registering. If you're unable to register, please email your name and which class you want to attend to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov

  • January 8, Wednesday: CERT HazMat Awareness (CERT-Haz): A general introduction to hazardous materials. 
CERT students demonstrate their lifting and cribbing skills to free a trapped victim during their graduation exercise.
  • January 21, begins Tuesday: CERT II - Class 79 (CERT 79): The full CERT training, meeting once a week for seven weeks, ending in March with a full-scale graduation exercise. A mixture of classroom and hands-on training, students will learn skills to help themselves, their families, and their communities in case of a disaster, including triage, disaster medicine, fire suppression, search-and-rescue, and more.
  • January 22, begins Wednesday: CERT II - Class 80 (CERT 80): The same training as above, except offered on Wednesday nights.
  • February 1, Saturday: Infectious Control / Blood-Borne Pathogens (BBP): CERTs will learn about infectious-disease-causing organisms they might encounter in different disasters, as well as infection control precautions they should take.
  • IMG_1789
    A moulaged victim actor during a CERT exercise displays a realistic impalement and flesh wounds.
  • February 10, Monday: Art of Moulage (MOU-1): Learn how to apply moulage, or realistic wound makeup, to victim actors at training exercises.
  • February 13, Thursday: Tour of EOC (Tour EOC): CERTs will see the workings of Fairfax County's Emergency Operations Center.
  • February 18, begins Tuesday: CERT - Class 81 (CERT 81): CERT training in the community (Fairfax), meeting once a week for eight weeks. Students will learn disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, disaster medical operations, and more, in hands-on and classroom training.
Animal stand-ins during a prior CERT training session on Pet First Aid During Disasters.
  • February 24, Monday: CERT Animal Module 1 (CERT An 1): CERT members will learn emergency preparedness for animal owners and how to recognize specific animal behaviors. 
  • March 3, Monday: CERT Animal Module 2 (CERT An 2): In the second of two Animal Modules, CERT members will learn how to handle situations involving animals that they may encounter in performing their broader CERT response functions.   
  • April 15, Tuesday: Dominion Power Safety Presentation (POWER): A representative from Dominion Power will teach CERTs how to recognize and avoid dangers from utilities during disasters.
  • May 3, Saturday: Infectious Control / Blood-Borne Pathogens (BBP): Same as Feb. 1.
  • May 7, Wednesday: CERT HazMat Awareness (CERT-Haz): Same as Jan. 8.
  • June 2, Monday: NSC First Aid (NSCFA01): CERTs will learn how to respond to breathing emergencies, identifying and caring for bleeding, sudden illness and injuries, and techniques for preventing disease transmission.
  • June 3, Tuesday: NSC First Aid (NSCFA01): Same as above. Only one session is required.
  • June 16, Monday: NSC CPR & AED (NSCCPR01): CERTs will learn how to respond to breathing and cardiac emergencies in adults, children and infants; tips on heart disease prevention, scene control, patient assessment, CPR integration, AED application and protocol adherence.
  • June 17: Tuesday: NSC CPR & AED (NSCCPR01): Same as above. Only one session is required.
  • August 2, Saturday: Infectious Control / Blood-Borne Pathogens (BBP): Same as Feb. 1. 
  • November 1, Saturday: Infectious Control / Blood-Borne Pathogens (BBP): Same as Feb. 1. 
  • November 5, Wednesday: CERT HazMat Awareness (CERT-Haz): Same as Jan. 8.
  • December 10, Wednesday: NSC First Aid (NSCFA01): Same as June 2.
  • December 11, Thursday: NSC First Aid (NSCFA01): Same as above. Only one session is required.
  • December 15, Monday: NSC CPR & AED (NSCCPR01): Same as June 16.
  • December 16: Tuesday: NSC CPR & AED (NSCCPR01): Same as above. Only one session is required.
Many more courses are being added to the calendar -- check the weekly CERT emails for more info, and follow us on Facebook

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Register now for 2014 CERT Classes!

If you've been eagerly awaiting the chance to take Community Emergency Response Team training, this is the news you've been waiting for! Registration is now open for Fairfax County CERT's Winter/Spring 2014 classes -- they're filling up fast, so register now (then, tell your friends):

CERT students transport a victim actor during the fall 2013 graduation exercise. Photo: Joe Loong.


This is the main CERT class we rave about. 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.

Plus, you'll get a backpack of CERT rescue gear that you'll use in training, including during a realistic, full-scale graduation exercise.

Training is free to all adults over 18, of all physical abilities, who live or work in Fairfax County. Basic CERT rescue gear is supplied.

There are two CERT classes starting in January; both classes will meet at the Fire and Rescue Academy in Fairfax -- the same facility Fairfax County firefighters use to train -- from 7-10PM, weekly for seven weeks (from January to March):
  • Class 79 is Tuesday evenings, starting on January 21.
  • Class 80 is Wednesday evenings, starting on January 22.
CERT classes are taught by experts from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, and combine classroom instruction with hands-on training. 

To Register for CERT Training:

Visit www.fairfaxcert.com and log in. If you don't have a training account, you'll need to register. After you've logged in:
  1. Click the "Training" tab in the navigation bar
  2. Select "Training Calendar"
  3. Click the right arrow (>>) to show the month you want
  4. Click on the name of the class you want on the date it's offered
Important Technical Note: The FairfaxCERT.com site works best with Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Internet Explorer and mobile users may have problems registering. If you're unable to register, please email your name and which class you want to attend to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov

Additional Training Opportunities

The full 2014 training calendar should be finalized soon. Here are some already-scheduled training opportunities for December and January (please note that the December CPR/AED and First Aid classes on the calendar are full):
  • Tuesday, December 10: CERT Refresher - Incident Command System (ICS). 7PM-10PM, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy. A refresher in the Incident Command System for current CERT members who have already taken CERT training. Register at www.fairfaxcert.com, using the instructions above to find "CRFRSH/ICS" on Dec. 10. [Update, 12/5: The ICS Refresher class has been postponed. Watch for CERT emails when the class is rescheduled.]
  • Wednesday, January 8: CERT HAZMAT Awareness. 7PM-11PM, Fairfax Center, Fire Station 40. A general introduction to hazardous materials that can serve as an initial foundation for existing CERT members. Students will learn about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Toxic Industrial Chemicals (TIC), and more. Register at www.fairfaxcert.com, using the instructions above to find "CERT-Haz" on Jan. 8.
Plus, stay tuned for the February courses (some of which have already been announced in the weekly CERT emails), including moulage (wound makeup), a tour of the Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and much, much more!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Avoid a Turkey Inferno This Thanksgiving

[Editor's note: It's that time of year again -- time for CERT instructor Mike Forgy to bust out his traditional deep-fried turkey safety tips for Thanksgiving.

This year, though, he passes along a special tip for folks traveling for Thanksgiving: Beware of fake wireless internet hotspots, particularly in airports and other heavily trafficked public spaces.

According to a warning from the Better Business Bureau, hackers have been known to set up fake Wi-Fi connections designed to steal the personal information (including passwords and credit card information) of the people who unknowingly connect to them.

Personal security these days includes cybersecurity, so check out the article to see advice for travelers using Wi-Fi hotspots.

On to the turkey...]

Here we go again, the turkey fryer post!  Please make sure if you are planning to fry a turkey this Thanksgiving, you do so safely. Turkey fryer fires are extremely dangerous and I would like everyone to enjoy their holiday, not have it end in tears, or worse.

Check out this short demo showing what happens during a fryer fire:

How are you cooking your Thanksgiving turkey? What the heck does this have to do with CERT, safety or anything other than a cooking class?   Frying a whole turkey has become popular in the past few years, but if not done correctly, the effects can be devastating. Unfortunately, if you are novice, or even have experience frying a turkey, it is a serious and dangerous prospect.

There are many reasons using a deep fryer to cook a turkey can be dangerous. Since using the typical pedestal-type turkey fryer SHOULD NEVER BE DONE INDOORS (this includes a garage or barn, even if is not entirely closed in), making sure you have the space and equipment to do this outdoors is important.

Also bear in mind what the weather is doing; if it is windy, raining or snowing, this could affect your fryer. In order to fry your turkey you will need to get the oil in the fryer up to at least 350 degrees ...350 degrees, which, if you did not know, IS REALLY HOT! 

Working with an unstable product such as blazing hot oil over an open flame is dangerous, even if you know what you are doing. Other safety issues include:

* If the burner is not on level ground, the units can easily tip over, spilling hot oil (3-5 gallons of hot oil at 350 degrees!!!) onto the burner and creating a LARGE, FAST fire.

* If the pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill over when the turkey is lowered into the pot. Oil will hit the flames on the burner and engulf the burner with fire. There are ways to measure out the right amount of oil, which is imperative to ensure you do not have the pot overfilled.

* Water and hot oil do not go together. Partially frozen turkeys contain water of course, so if you lower a partially frozen turkey into a fryer, expect an extensive fire. Heaven help you if you place a frozen turkey in the fryer; to help defrost it....this will cause an explosion as the water expands in the hot (350 degree) oil. DON'T DO IT.

* The outdoor fryers have no thermostat controls, so they can overheat quickly and cause the oil to boil over the sides of the pot faster than you can react.

* The pot and handles get EXTREMELY hot (remember, 350 degrees of boiling oil), posing severe burn hazards.

I am sure there is someone out there saying to themselves, "I am going to fry a turkey anyway." It won't be the first time someone did not listen to what I said. You still want to fry that turkey? Ok, fine. Please, remember these things as you go about frying. These are not guaranteed to stop a fire or keep you from getting burned, but they may help in mitigating a larger disaster (such as burning your house down):

* Never use a turkey fryer on a wooden, or composite deck, or inside a garage, home, or within any structure.

* Place the fryer a safe distance away from any building (if you place it in the grass, the grass should not be overly dry, nor overly wet. Also count on the grass dying and never growing back).

* Fryers should be used on a firm, flat surface to prevent them from tipping over. Try the middle of a parking lot... not the sloping driveway in front of your house next to your car.

* Once the pot is filled with the recommended amount of oil (probably peanut oil) and the burner is ignited, you should NEVER leave the fryer unattended. This also means do not cook if you are under the influence. Please, don't drink and fry.

* Keep pets inside and keep children at a safe distance. A safe distance being somewhere where they will never see the fryer, because once they do, they will want to get close.

* Use well-insulated gloves or oven mitts and wear safety glasses (I think I know where you might have a pair laying around) to guard against oil splatters.

* Do not wear loose clothing as these may ignite if you get too close to the flame or the oil, or both. If your clothes do catch on fire, remember, Stop, Drop and Roll!

*Turkeys must be thoroughly thawed. While very tasty, be very careful of injecting marinades into your turkey. The extra liquid in the bird may cause the oil to spill over.

*Keep a portable dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use a water type extinguisher to extinguish a grease or oil fire. Do not deploy the garden hose to assist with your turkey fryer fire, this will do MUCH, MUCH more harm than good.

* If your fryer does catch fire call 9-1-1 immediately!

Finally, remember the oil inside the pot will remain hot for hours after your turkey has been removed. DO NOT bring it indoors and again, keep children and pets away from the pot.

For more information on some of the hazards of cooking fires (not just the turkey fryer fires), please visit the United States Fire Administration's website for a copy of Behavioral Mitigation of Cooking Fires [PDF], located here: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/prevention_education/strategies/cooking/

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

-- Mike

Friday, November 8, 2013

CERTs in Charge: Lessons Learned From the Final Exercise

Hopefully, you saw yesterday's recap of the November 2 final exercise for CERT classes 73 & 74. This post will highlight some things I saw as a controller in Building 25, and some conversations I had with CERTs in Command, Medical, and Accountability.

Note that these are just my personal opinions and observations: If you have feedback from the exercise you'd like to share, please leave a comment here or on the Facebook page; you can also send feedback directly to your instructors.

 Command and Control 

IC Brian Aiello (in green
helmet), coordinates with
Fairfax County Fire & Rescue.
Under ICS, the rescue effort is led by an Incident Commander (IC), who takes overall command of a chaotic situation and assigns the other roles for the Command staff.

CERT Brian Aiello from Class 73 started out as Incident Commander. When I asked Brian about his impressions serving as IC, his key takeaway was that the Incident Commander bears a lot of responsibility and has a lot to organize, but that the task is made easier by identifying good people to fill key roles.

ICs also have to maintain flexibility and adapt to the changing conditions and uncertainty present in all disasters. In this scenario, exercise controllers added complexity by requiring all CERTs, including the Command staff, rotate over to the lifting and cribbing skills test station, meaning that command was transferred more than usual.

IC Andrea Borelli
directs efforts.
CERT Andrea Borrelli (also Class 73) was there to pick up command responsibility. While finding the initial handover "really confusing," Andrea ultimately found her stint as IC not as complicated as she'd expected.

She attributes this to having worked in prior CERT training activities with her Accountability lead, Ken Lucas, which illustrates another aspect of the benefits of training exercises: Increasing familiarity and developing the working relationships responders need in a real emergency.

(There's a saying among emergency managers: "You don't want to be exchanging business cards during a disaster.")

Despite challenges, both ICs were pleased by the helpfulness of their fellow CERTs, with Brian lauding CERTs' readiness to accept assignments, and with Andrea glad to see that CERTs had no problem following orders from a young person (something she'd had concerns about before taking command).

Coordinating Rescuers

Before Rescue teams can be sent out, Command staff first have to assess the situation, set priorities, allocate resources, and issue orders. And as the operation develops, teams often face waits to check in or be redeployed, since the IC and Accountability are trying to simultaneously handle multiple problems.

For rescuers, the wait can be agonizing; IC Andrea noted that one of the challenges of Command is the need to rein in the impulse of CERTs on rescue teams to run off and go do something outside the scope of their orders.

For example, in one instance, an exercise controller (experienced Fairfax County CERTs can probably guess who) set off a smoke bomb to simulate a fire in an already-cleared building. A CERT, on his own initiative, started heading to the building with fire extinguisher in hand to perform fire suppression, until the IC stopped him and pulled him back, noting that the fire provided no immediate threat to the operation.

Rescuers don't always understand that they only see a small piece of the overall picture, and that in theory, Command will have a broader picture of the entire situation.

This is easier said than done. Within the friction of a disaster response, there are always challenges, bottlenecks, and information gaps. To help manage the information flow, Accountability went low-tech, using a large piece of cardboard and a black Sharpie marker:

Command staff coordinate in front of the Accountability board.
Using the board, the Command staff was able to track team status, and keep a tally of actions taken, buildings searched, and victims rescued, to better inform Command's decisions. Though it wasn't always easy: Accountability Ken noted his biggest challenge was getting teams to maintain consistent numbering of victims on tags and dashboards. Similarly, IC Brian noted several instances where CERTs got separated from their partners, against the precepts of the buddy system.

(I only saw activity at the Command Post towards the end of the exercise; if folks have comments from earlier in the day, please share in the comments.)

Rescuers in the Field

Once the disaster scene is cleared for rescue teams to begin work, CERTs often feel impatience to deploy, especially when they can see and hear victims in the immediate vicinity of the Command Post.

Victims, too, can feel impatience or frustration, especially when they can see or hear CERTs waiting at the Command Post to be deployed:

The view of the Command Post from inside Building 25.

Of course, impatience at initial inaction can often be followed by the feeling of being overwhelmed once a rescuer comes face to face with the number of victims at a mass casualty scene.

The CERTs I witnessed were pretty good at using the triage techniques they were taught to assess patients for breathing, bleeding, and shock, as well as mostly good at wearing their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Another thing that was a pleasant surprise to see -- the Rescue team I witnessed remembered to mark the building -- both on entry and exit -- which is something CERTs often forget to do.

CERTs marked the entrance to Building 25.

Caring for Patients

For CERTs working at Medical, the tempo is slightly different. Initially, activity at Medical is slow... until CERTs begin bringing in rescued victims, and activity surges.

Carlos Santiso, overseeing Medical, also found the experience somewhat overwhelming. As CERTs are told in training, patient demand can often threaten to overload capacity, until resources start to shift from search-and-rescue operations to patient care.

CERTs and EMTs assess and treat patients in the busy Medical area.
The diversion of CERTs to the lifting and cribbing station also affected Medical, causing a loss of resources just when they were needed to scale up. However, challenges like these simulate the kind of pressures CERTs would face in a real response, and provide lessons learned for future situations.

According to Carlos, one other lesson he learned was to leave more room to expand the areas for Red-, Yellow-, and Green-tagged patients in Medical, to avoid having patients spread across multiple locations.

Logistical Support

The role of Logistics can be easy to overlook... until Rescue and Transport teams start calling for stretchers and cribbing material, and Medical teams run low on splint material and dressings.

Logistics team members find, gather, and distribute vital supplies. (And steal our water.)
Logistics team members were particularly aggressive; I had to stop one team from taking the bottled water set aside for victims in Building 25, only to find that a few minutes later that another Logistics team had gotten to it.

Transfer of Command

Coordinating counts of patients and their status provided a challenge, complicated by the prior transfer of Command, as well as having patients in the same category spread across multiple locations.

CERTs coordinate with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue to transfer command.
Towards the end of the exercise, it seemed like everyone -- CERTs and victims -- was crowded around Medical. Some of our victim actors had moved around, making it particularly difficult for IC and the Fair Oaks EMTs to get an accurate tally of the number and type of victims.


Here you can see one of the Incident Command Boards used by the Fairfax Fire and Rescue folks (click to zoom), compared to the big piece of cardboard Accountability was using. The goal is to make sure that by the Transfer of Command, CERTs can boil down the info from that big board, down to the boxes on that little board:

IMG_2732 IMG_2713


The purpose of a full-scale exercise is to challenge CERT responders, to make them think as they use their training, and to give them a chance to learn what they do well, and what they can do better. The CERTs from classes 73 & 74 did a great job, and I hope to see them at future training exercises and activities.

Thanks to all the CERT instructors, staff, and victim actors, and congratulations to our new Fairfax County CERTs!

If you have thoughts or feedback you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New CERTs Respond to Simulated Hurricane in Graduation Exercise

    On November 2, Hurricane Victoria, a Category 3 storm, slams into Virginia, lashing the area with 80+mph winds and adding a foot of rain to already-saturated ground. First responders are swamped with calls to deal with widespread flooding in low-lying areas of northern Virginia and DC. In this large-scale disaster, Fairfax County CERTs are called to help a hard-hit gated community in Lorton. Assigned to assess the situation and assist the population of retirees and their visiting families, they are equipped only with the training and supplies they bring.
This was the scenario faced by over 40 students from classes 73 and 74 of Fairfax County's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, in a final graduation exercise that put their prior seven weeks of classroom and hands-on training to the test.

The goal of the exercise: Use a realistic, high-pressure environment to test CERTs' ability to perform their mission: Do the greatest good for the greatest number of people during a disaster... while keeping themselves safe.

Put to the Test

The CERT students, comprising Fairfax County residents of all ages, occupations, and capabilities, were challenged to respond to a full-scale, simulated disaster scene at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's training site in Lorton.

Lorton Training Site photo from April, 2013.
Located at the former Lorton Reformatory Juvenile Correctional Facility, the site is a realistic training environment used by professional first responders, including the international urban search and rescue team Virginia Task Force 1.

CERT rescuers assist a victim actor inside one of the Lorton facility buildings.
Placed in and around the wrecked buildings were over 50 volunteer victim actors, wearing moulage -- realistic wound makeup applied earlier that morning -- and given specific symptoms and behaviors with which to test their CERT rescuers' knowledge and training.

Victim actor volunteers sporting moulage (simulated wound makeup) depicting an impalement, embedded glass, and amputated fingers.

CERTs Take Command

From the moment they deployed to the site, CERT students were evaluated on their ability to establish a command structure, survey the scene, search for and triage victims, give lifesaving medical assistance, extricate and transport victims to a medical area for care, and finally, transfer command to Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department responders.

The first task for the CERT responders was to establish a Command Post in a safe area near the scene. From there, CERTs began to apply the concepts of the Incident Command System (ICS) -- a flexible, scalable, standardized approach for first responders managing incidents of all types and sizes.
CERTs issue orders and manage teams from the Command Post.
In CERT's implementation of ICS, the response effort is led by a single Incident Commander (IC), who is assisted by an Accountability lead who tracks the status of rescuers, resources, and victims -- in this case, using a big piece of cardboard and a black magic marker.

The command structure is centralized, with information flowing to and orders coming from one point, so the Incident Commander can effectively manage the situation, address changing priorities, and prevent the duplication of effort.

Supporting the IC are heads of departments, responsible for Medical and Logistics tasks, as well as the CERTs on the search and rescue teams.

Rescuers in Action

CERT rescuers are trained to perform an initial "size up" of the area, to ensure that it's safe enough to begin rescue operations. Then, CERTs "work the problem" and rapidly search the disaster scene, which may reveal large numbers of victims. To prevent being overwhelmed in a mass casualty situation, each CERT rescuer is trained to assess and triage (categorize) each victim within 30 seconds.

Within those 30 seconds, CERTs will treat major bleeding, and use simple tests to check victims for respiration, perfusion (the flow of blood to extremities), and mental status. 

A CERT rescuer assesses a victim actor with a simulated hand amputation.
CERTs will then tag each victim according to the severity of their injuries: Green (walking wounded), Yellow (Delayed treatment), Red (Immediate treatment), and Black (dead or expectant).

While the checklists are straightforward in the classroom, the processes are complicated in the field by stress and the realistic responses of the victim actors:

After the scene is surveyed, rescue teams report back to Command, which sets priorities and begins sending teams to transport the most serious (Red) patients to Medical for treatment.

CERTs use a flexible stretcher to transport a victim.
CERTs are trained to load and transport victims safely, using a variety of methods, including walking assists, two-person carries, and improvised stretchers.

A CERT rescue team carries a victim actor wrapped in a space blanket.

Treating the Wounded

When the victims arrive at Medical, they are checked in by the Medical team, and directed to the area that corresponds to their triage color code. Patients are given a head-to-toe assessment; dressings and splints are checked; and patients are re-assessed every five minutes.

CERTs in the Medical area work to stabilize a patient.
Using medical supplies that are brought, collected, and improvised by the Logistics team, the goal of CERTs in Medical is to keep patients stable and under care until professional first responders arrive.

Transferring Command

The role of CERT is to provide assistance to victims until professional first responders arrive. In this exercise, EMTs from Fairfax County's Fair Oaks Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department arrived to take command of the disaster response.
CERTs coordinate with EMTs from Fairfax County Fire & Rescue.
During the transfer of command, CERTs briefed responders about the incident, actions taken, and remaining actions. CERTs also gave a tally of the number and types of patients being treated, allowing the EMTs to focus on the care and transport of the highest-priority patients.

Prepared for Disaster

Upon completion of the exercise, the CERTs from classes 73 and 74 met with instructors to receive a debrief and get an assessment of their performance. CERTs were able to see where they performed well, and to find areas where they can improve their skills and tactics. All of the new CERT graduates received a certificate of accomplishment, and were encouraged to continue learning, training, and staying engaged with the Fairfax County CERT program.

CERT training classes are free to residents of Fairfax County over 18. Classes are offered several times each year at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy, as well as other locations throughout the community. For more information about CERT training, visit the official Fairfax County CERT web site.

*    *    *

Tomorrow: CERTs in Charge - observations and lessons from some CERTs who participated.

See more photos from the exercise in the album on Facebook and follow the activities of Fairfax County CERT by liking the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

CERTs in November: Go to Jail, Go Underground, Go Girl!

Update, Oct. 25: Adding another CERT event, the Fairfax City Firefighter 5k Race on Sunday, Nov. 3, where we need 25+ CERTs to serve as Course Marshals.

Quick update on a few events in November:

Steve (left) briefs observers during the CERT Con 2013 full-scale exercise.
CERT Graduation Exercise (Event)
Date: Saturday, Nov. 2, 8AM - 3PM
Lorton Training Site

Details: Lead CERT Instructor Steve Willey needs CERT members who have completed the CERT course at the Fire Academy to help out with the final exercise for the current bunch of CERT students. If you're not planning on being a victim during the exercise and would like to help out, please send him an e-mail ASAP.

To Register: Email Steve.

James in action during CERT Con
Fairfax City Firefighter 5K Race (Event)
Date: Sunday, Nov. 3, 7:00 - 9:30 A
Location: Fairfax City Fire House #403 (4081 University Drive, Fairfax, Virginia) and GMU Fairfax Campus

Details: We need at least 25 CERTs to provide Course Marshall support for the City of Fairfax Fire Benevolent Fund 5k Run/Walk. It's a great opportunity for freshly-minted CERTs to see how we use the Incident Command System to manage activities during a planned event.

CERTs will staff fixed posts and two bicycle-mounted Mobile Course Marshall (MCM) teams, and will be responsible for traffic management at key intersections and facilities. CERTs will learn and use traffic and crowd management skills, and may also use handheld walkie-talkies and FRS radios. For more details, please email James Sobecke.
To Register: Go to the CERT website (www.fairfaxcert.com) and sign up for event "FXC 11-13" in the course listings, or look on the calendar view for Nov. 3.

Subway evacuation graphic from
the Metro Emergency Guide [PDF]
Metro Citizen Corps Training
Date: Thursday, Nov. 7 and Thursday, Nov. 14, 6PM - 9PM (must attend both classes)
Location: Metro Headquarters (600 5th St. NW, Washington, DC)

Details: Once a month, DC's Metro Transit Police and Metro Citizen Corps work with a local jurisdiction's CERT group, training them "how to react to emergencies ranging from rail safety to identification of terrorist activity. The members are taught how to help themselves and their fellow passengers while they wait for firefighters and police to arrive."
For November, they're working with Fairfax County CERT, so let's represent! Class is limited to 20, and to be eligible, you must be:

* an active Fairfax County CERT member
* a regular Metro rider
* a US citizen, 18 years of age or older
* able to pass a background check

In return, you'll learn a lot about how Metro operates, and how to help yourself and fellow passengers in case of emergencies on the Metro system as you wait for first responders to arrive.

To Register: See more details and sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

Outstanding Performance Award for Dana Powers
Date: Friday, Nov. 8, 10AM
Fairfax County Government Center (Central Forum)

Details: Fairfax County CERT's very own Dana Powers will be receiving an Outstanding Performance Award for her work in the Office of the Volunteer Liaison of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. Great job, Dana!

You've seen Dana at any number of CERT training classes, events, and graduation exercises. She's a firm believer in CERT and is a great advocate for the program within the county.

Please join us at 10am on Friday, Nov. 8 in the Fairfax Government Center's Central Forum to congratulate her on her great work with the Volunteer Fire and EMS recruitment process, for helping make CERT Con such a great success, and for everything else she does to help Fairfax County and CERT.

(We also posted this event to our Facebook page. Have you liked our Facebook page? Clicking the Like button helps you get updates on events and helps us get the word out. Please visit the Fairfax County CERT Page on Facebook and "like" us.)

To Register for CERT Training Classes and Events:

Visit www.fairfaxcert.com and log in. If you don't have an account, you'll need to register for one. After you've logged in:
  1. Click the "Training" tab in the navigation bar
  2. Select "Training Calendar"
  3. You'll see the current month's classes and events. Find the one you want, or click the right arrow (>>) to see events and classes in the next month.
  4. Click on the listing you want. (If you see a listing but can't click on it, enrollment is closed -- the class is probably full.)
  5. You'll see details about the class. To enroll in a class, click the blue "Enroll" button. After you successfully enroll, you'll receive an email confirmation.
Important Technical Note: The FairfaxCERT.com site works best with Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Internet Explorer and mobile users may have problems registering. If you're unable to register, please email your name and which class you want to attend to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Wounds: Making Brains With Rice Krispies

Moulage (moo-lahj) is a French term for the art of applying simulated injuries to victim actors. Moulage adds realism to training exercises, helping CERTs prepare psychologically for the sights they'll see when responding to a disaster scene.

CERTs also help other organizations by moulaging victim actors during their exercises. An example of this was when CERTs from Fairfax County, VA and Montgomery County, MD moulaged victim actors for the Capital Shield exercise in October.

Here, CERT volunteer instructor and moulage queen Susy Ledgerwood shares her technique for creating realistic exposed brain head wounds for your next exercise. (More importantly, you can use it to add extra flair to your zombie makeup for Halloween):

Susy applies moulage to a victim actor before the 2014 Capital Shield exercise.
* White bone wax makeup
* Flesh-tone modeling wax
* Rice Krispies (or the any equivalent puffed rice breakfast cereal)
* Grey wound makeup
* Thick fake blood paste and stage blood

Susy says, "I used loose Rice Krispies. I keep sandwich bags of them in my moulage kit – they can also be put in a pants pocket to simulate "crepitus" associated with a broken hip/pelvis. (When doing a head-to-toe assessment, you’d feel the instability and hear the crunching noise of the broken hip bones.)"

1. Create the exposed fractured skull using white bone wax -- lay two small snakes of wax side by side with a slight opening in the center between them; flatten and blend the outer edges into the forehead/scalp, leaving the center open.

2. Add a thin layer of flesh-tone modeling wax on top of the outer edges of the white wax and blend the outer edges into the forehead/scalp to simulate the skin covering the skull.

3. Combine a few Rice Krispies, a little of the flesh-tone modeling wax, and a little bit of grey makeup color so that the rice krispies stick together and are covered in a greyish film of wax.

4. Insert the Rice Krispie “brains” into the opening of the exposed fractured skull. If possible, push some of it under the white wax so it appears the “brain matter” is under the skull, not on top of it.

5. Apply “thick blood” or “blood paste” around edges of wound and add stage blood dripping from the wound.

Here's what the finished product looks like:

Closeup of the finished head wound. (The yellow tint is from the overhead lights.)

Pretty neat, right? It's not squishy like brains... but then, why are you poking your fingers into exposed brain tissue?

If you're interested in learning how to do moulage, Fairfax County CERT frequently offers classes. Keep an eye out for announcements or check the training calendar at FairfaxCERT.com for upcoming classes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Victims Needed, Potluck Dinner, and New CERT Classes

Want to keep your CERT skills fresh and catch up with your fellow CERTs? Here are CERT training classes and events coming up soon. (Remember, you can always see the calendar view of upcoming events on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com. And to register for events and classes on the CERT website, see the instructions at the bottom of the page).

 First, we'll skip ahead to two important non-training November events:

IMG_1267 CERT Class Graduation Exercise (Victim Actors)
Date: Saturday, November 2
Location: Lorton Training Site
Details: We need actors to serve as victims in the graduation exercise for the next batch of upcoming CERTs!

This is a great opportunity for folks to see what a disaster exercise looks like from the victim's point of view, which can help improve your rescuer techniques. Plus, you get to wear gory stage makeup and act dazed and confused. It's a lot of fun, and lunch will be served on site.

CERTs, family members, friends, minors with parental permission, those looking for community service credits, and all others are welcome to participate as victims.

To Register: For details, please send an email to actors@fairfaxcountycert.org

(Spring 2013 CERT Graduation exercise photo: Joe Loong)

2nd Annual Potluck Dinner (Social)
Date: Sunday, November 10, 4PM-7PM
Location: Annandale Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Station 8
Details: Bring yourself, your family, and your friends to our second annual Potluck Dinner! It's a great way to meet the new class of CERTs, as well as catch up with CERT buddies.

Non-alcoholic drinks will be provided. Please do not bring alcohol. However, please do bring an appetizer, main dish, or dessert. (Note: You don't have to wrap your dish in duct tape, despite CERT instructor Rich Hall's example in the photo above from the 2012 potluck.)

To Register: RSVP to FXcertpotluck@gmail.com. Please include the number of people attending and what type of dish you'll be bringing.

(2012 Potluck photo: Anita Van der Merwe)

New CERT Classes 76 and 77 (Training)
Date: Tuesday evenings beginning October 29, and running through January 2014
Location: Annandale Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Station 8

Details: The next two CERT classes will start on October 29, and will be held on Tuesday nights at the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department Fire Station 8.

Class 76 will run from 4:00-6:30 PM, and Class 77 runs from 7:00-9:30 PM. Classes run eight weeks (extending into January because of holiday breaks), and consist of classroom training with hands-on skill development.

Students will learn about disaster preparedness, fire safety, light search and rescue, and disaster medical operations -- skills that let people provide immediate help and support before emergency responders arrive on scene.

People over 18 who live or work in Fairfax County are welcome to take the class, which is completely free.

To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

(CERT gear photo: Joe Loong)

first aid CPR/AED and First Aid Classes (Training)
- First Aid: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6-11PM
- First Aid: Thursday, Dec. 12, 6-11PM
- CPR/AED: Monday, Dec. 16, 6-11PM
- CPR/AED: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 6-11PM

Location: Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy
Details: Another round of NSC First Aid and CPR/AED classes for people who have completed CERT training. Classes will be held at the Fire and Rescue Academy; you only need to attend one night.

Please note, at this time, CPR/AED classes are full. Please sign in and check the course listings on fairfaxcert.com for the most current information on class availability.

To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

(First aid kit photo by Flickr user missmoon)

To Register for CERT Training Classes and Events:

Visit www.fairfaxcert.com and log in. If you don't have an account, you'll need to register for one. After you've logged in:
  1. Click the "Training" tab in the navigation bar
  2. Select "Training Calendar"
  3. You'll see the current month's classes and events. Find the one you want, or click the right arrow (>>) to see events and classes in the next month.
  4. Click on the listing you want. (If you see a listing but can't click on it, enrollment is closed -- the class is probably full.)
  5. You'll see details about the class. To enroll in a class, click the blue "Enroll" button. After you successfully enroll, you'll receive an email confirmation.
Important Technical Note: The FairfaxCERT.com site works best with Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Internet Explorer and mobile users may have problems registering. If you're unable to register, please email your name and which class you want to attend to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov

Thursday, September 26, 2013

You Don't Have to Be a Victim (But It'd Be Cool If You Were)

Moulaged victim actor smiles at the CERT Con 2013 full-scale exercise. Photo: Joe Loong

Victim Coordinator Missy sends in her most recent email to CERTs:

Our CERT classes at the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Academy and Station 22 (Springfield Fire Station) are in full swing. We’re looking for Victim Actors on the following dates: 

September 30
October 2
October 7
October 9
October 16
October 21
October 23
October 28
October 30

You may be covered in theatrical make-up (moulage); could be lying in a burn building; or even looking for your imaginary friend. These scenarios allow our students to gain insight and learn to treat multiple victims in a short period of time. 

For more information or to register, email Missy at missy@gemmistech.com. If this is your first time volunteering with us, no worries! We’ll explain the process and scenarios. You’ll do a lot of screaming and yelling and have a great deal of fun in the process. :)

(And as CERT Jack Ledgerwood reminds us in a comment on our Facebook page, save the date for November 2, when we'll need lots of victim actors for the big graduation exercise, where our current CERT trainees will have to put all of their new skills to the test in a highly realistic training environment. Stay tuned for details!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When Was the Last Time You Looked in Your First Aid Kit?

As a CERT, chances are better than average that you have a first aid kit around. (Somewhere.)

However, Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, passes along this most recent newsletter from the Center for Wilderness Safety, which asks the provocative question:

When's the last time you really checked out your first aid kit?

First aid kit
Hope your first aid kit isn't this old. Image by Flickr user u07ch, used under Creative Commons license.
If you've ever gone to Target or any other name-brand shop to look at first aid kits, you've probably seen those 1000 piece first aid kits, and thought "Gee, that's a lot of stuff! I think I'll buy it!", only to get home to and open it to find that 900 of the pieces are either Band-Aids or gauze?

Just how useful do you think that kit is going to be out in the woods? If you're running through a field of thistles and thorns, your kit will be more than sufficient. Then again, if anything else were to happen in said field, you'd probably be wishing that you had a better first aid kit.

When you're out and about, enjoying the great outdoors, having a proper first aid kit is essential, but there's a lot more that goes into it than meets the eye. Once you've got your kit built, you have to stay active in its upkeep, or it could let you down when you really need it most.

Over time, gloves will dry-rot, or become brittle and will no longer stretch; instead they will tear and break. Alcohol, iodine, and handy-wipes can dry out. Checking them from time to time is worth the cost of opening one out of the batch to ensure they are still good. Keeping your first aid kit with you even when you aren't in the wilderness promotes being prepared and provides ongoing interaction with your kit.
Click to see the full article from the Center for Wilderness Safety, including tips on how to inventory and restock your first aid kits, and how to deal with medications and perishable items.

Suggestion for CERTs: Check the first aid supplies in your CERT bag and first aid kit, and if you find any items that are expired or otherwise need replacing, leave a comment below and share with your fellow CERTs.

As a side note: Apparently, "First Aid Kit" is also the name of a Swedish folk duo:

First Aid Kit
Image by Flickr user roboppy, used under Creative Commons license.

While I'm sure they're fantastic, they probably won't be around to help you or your family in case of an emergency.

Friday, September 13, 2013

September-October CERT Training Opportunities

Want to keep your CERT skills fresh and learn new ones? Here are Fairfax County CERT training classes and events coming up in September and October. (Remember, you can always see the calendar view of upcoming events on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com. And to register for events and classes on the CERT website, see the instructions at the bottom of the page):

Biohazard! Infectious Control / Blood Borne Pathogens (Training)
Date: Tuesday, September 17, 7:30PM-10PM
Location: Annandale Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Station 8
Details: This annual refresher training covers the types of infectious diseases, presentation of symptoms, likelihood and method of transmission, and other general hazards and risks associated with bodily fluids. The 9/15, 9/16, and 9/23 classes are full; space is still available for the September 17 class.
To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

(Photo: Flickr user nickelmedia)

CERTs get a safety briefing before last year's Capital Shield. (Photo: Flickr user joelogon)
Capital Shield (Exercise)
Date: Tuesday, October 1 and Wednesday, October 2
Location: Fort Belvior area
Details: Fairfax County CERT has been once again invited to participate in the annual Capital Shield exercise hosted by the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region. CERTs will work alongside first responders from civilian and military agencies from around the area, and will be integrated into operations with multiple jurisdictions in a simulated disaster event. Our role this year includes moulage, search and rescue, and victim actor extrication. You can participate one or both days!
Note: This event is limited to individuals who have completed CERT training.
If you have questions, please contact the event planner at anita_vdm@yahoo.com
To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com and sign up for October 1 and/or October 2

Fall for Fairfax KidsFest (Outreach)
Date: Saturday, October 5, 10AM-7PM and Sunday, October 6, 10AM-5PM.
Location: Fairfax County Government Center (See event website.)
Details: Staff the CERT outreach table and promote CERT and preparedness to children and their families. Staffing schedules will be determined by the number of CERTs who sign up.
To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

IMG_1737 Deafness and Hearing Loss: The Communication Challenges for Emergency Responders (Training)
Date: Thursday, October 10, 7-9PM
Location: Fairfax County Government Center
Details: Bonnie O'Leary, Director of Community Outreach Programs, Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, gave a very popular presentation at this year's CERT Con on what CERTs need to know when working with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. By popular demand, we're offering a more in-depth followup for CERTs.
To Register: Sign up on the CERT website, www.fairfaxcert.com

(Bonnie O'Leary photo from CERT Con 2013 by Flickr user joelogon)

IMG_4435 Fairfax County Fire Station Open Houses (Outreach)
Date: Saturday, October 12, 10AM-4PM
Bailey's Crossroads, Fire Station 10
Burke, Fire Station 14
Centreville, Fire Station 17
Dunn Loring, Fire Station 13
Fair Oaks, Fire Station 21
Greater Springfield, Fire Station 22
Vienna, Fire Station 02
West Springfield, Fire Station 27
Help educate the public and our first responders about the important role that CERT plays in the community. This is primarily CERT outreach, though some stations may use CERT as a resource to help manage their open house (in which case, they feed us).
Note: Open to CERTs who have completed training.
To Register: If you'd like to participate, or don't see your local station listed, please email Judy Howell at pio@fairfaxcountycert.org

(Photo from 2010 McLean open house by Flickr user joelogon)

To Register for CERT Training Classes and Events:

Visit www.fairfaxcert.com and log in. If you don't have an account, you'll need to register for one. After you've logged in:
  1. Click the "Training" tab in the navigation bar
  2. Select "Training Calendar"
  3. You'll see the current month's classes and events. Find the one you want, or click the right arrow (>>) to see events and classes in the next month.
  4. Click on the listing you want. (If you see a listing but can't click on it, enrollment is closed -- the class is probably full.)
  5. You'll see details about the class. To enroll in a class, click the blue "Enroll" button. After you successfully enroll, you'll receive an email confirmation.
Important Technical Note: The FairfaxCERT.com site works best with Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Internet Explorer and mobile users may have problems registering. If you're unable to register, please email your name and which class you want to attend to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One Simple Step to Make Yourself More Prepared for Disasters

At a disaster resilience conference in DC last week, Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), asked attendees to do one simple thing that would make them more prepared for disasters:

Take out your smartphone and:

Okay, that's two steps, but the point is, just by doing these two things makes you more prepared for disasters.

Craig Fugate, Administrator, FEMA, speaks at a National Academy of Sciences conference on resilience. Image by Flickr user joelogon, used under Creative Commons license.
Preparedness Starts With a Single Step

Of course, there's a lot more that people should do to get prepared. But as Craig points out, when we try to convince people to prepare for disasters, we usually throw too much information at them.

For example, look at right now: It's National Preparedness Month. There's a lot -- a lot -- of useful information flying around, from a lot of different folks, about what you should know and what you should do to prepare for disasters: How to make a disaster plan. What to put in a first-aid kit. Why preparing for a zombie apocalypse makes sense. How to prepare your pets for disasters.

It's all necessary info, but if you're starting from scratch, it can be overwhelming. Forget 30 things; even getting down into the details of the 3 things you should do to prepare (be informed; make a plan; build a kit) can cause you to throw up your hands.

Don't take it from me: According to a 2013 survey, fewer than half of US families even have an emergency plan for use in a disaster.

Preparing People to Prepare

Asking people to bookmark a page and install an app is a small step that's super easy to do. And that's the point: It's a gateway step that, at the very least, will direct them to news and information in case of a disaster.

More importantly, it's a way to get people to buy into the mindset of disaster preparedness. And here's a direct quote from Craig: "Being prepared is more about a state of mind, not a stack of supplies."

Having a prepared state of mind is completely free. And it's the first and most important step in a journey to preparedness.

As how people should define "preparedness," instead of trying to define it with technical terms like "72-hour" or "shelter in place," Craig characterized preparedness as the ability to answer this simple question:

What are you going to do if something happens and you can't get through on the phone?

Now, if you're reading this blog post, you're probably either already a CERT, or want to become one, so you're already more prepared than most of the people you know. But as we continue on through National Preparedness Month and try to help others prepare, remember that the biggest step may be a small first step.