Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fairfax County CERTs Appear on 'Good Morning Washington'

Last Friday morning, with the San Bernardino mass shooting terror attack still fresh on people's minds, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Volunteer Liaison Jeffrey Katz and Fairfax County CERT Deputy Lead Anita Van der Merwe did a live appearance on WJLA's Good Morning Washington to talk about the Community Emergency Response Team program, and how the free training can help members of the community prepare for all types of disasters and incidents.

Responding to questions from Good Morning Washington anchor Larry Smith, Jeff and Anita covered the origins of CERT and the disaster response skills that CERTs learn in the free training, including disaster triage, fire suppression, and disaster medicine -- basic "duct tape first aid" where people can treat life threatening injuries using simple tools like duct tape, rags, or a torn t-shirt.

WJLA anchor Larry Smith, with Jeffrey Katz and Anita Van der Merwe. (Photo courtesy of WJLA)

Anita also showed off her CERT gear, starting with the issued personal protective equipment (helmet, reflective vest, eye protection, and N95 mask), then her own customized gear... including several varieties of duct tape, which caused Mr. Smith to compare CERT training to "training people to be MacGyver in emergency situations."

Since CERT training does teach people to be aware, prepared, and adaptable in emergencies, this is very true -- especially since, as Jeffrey mentioned, CERTs must be able to create tools like stretchers, splints, and backboards, using only their ingenuity and the materials they have on hand.

Larry Smith, Jeffrey Katz, and Anita Van der Merwe. (Photo courtesy of WJLA)
Telling people about the value of preparedness and how CERT training can help people is one of the most important aspects of the CERT program, so great job Jeffrey and Anita!

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

Get Your Ham Radio License in a Weekend!

CERTs love ham (radio), because every time we list an amateur radio class, it fills up nearly instantly. Here's one more opportunity to get your Technician-class license training in a single weekend, sponsored by CERT of Clinton, MD. Sign up now!

Date: Saturday, Nov. 7 and Sunday, Nov. 8
Time:  9AM to 4PM (both days)
Location: The Cranford-Graves Fire Services Building
6820 Webster Street
Hyattsville, Maryland, 20784
Cost: Free -- no charge for the class, but you need to purchase the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual 3rd Edition (list price, $29.95, available from ARRL and other online sources)
Registration and More Information:

Following the training class, there will be a free examination session Saturday, Nov. 21 in Laurel, MD. See full details on the class registration page.

p.s. Don't forget, once you become a ham, or if you're already a CERT and a ham, join the Fairfax County CERT Radio Net discussion group. For more information, email James at

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Upcoming CERT Victim Actor Opportunities, Training, and More

We've got a bunch of interesting Victim Actor and training activities happening soon, including some training classes that will help you broaden your CERT skill set.

Victim actors wearing wound makeup during some of our recent CERT exercises. You could be one of them!
Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015: Victim Actors -- CERT 99 Graduation Exercise, Annandale: We need victim actors for CERT 99's final graduation exercise, which takes place in a neighborhood location (the Capital Baptist Church in Annandale). Victim actors will be needed from about 10AM-2:30PM, and will receive moulage (wound makeup), so you should wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, bloody, or ripped. All actors must sign a waiver, and victim actors under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult. Actors should also bring a bag lunch. If you're interested in being a victim actor, please contact Donna at ASAP to be put on the actors list.

Monday, Aug. 31 to Oct. 3: Online Training -- Psychological First Aid:
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is offering a free class on Psychological First Aid. The class, which is completely online using the Coursera learning platform, starts on August 31st and runs for 5 weeks. Students will learn to learn to provide psychological first aid to people in an emergency by employing the RAPID model: Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition. The class is free, although if you want to be eligible for a certificate, there's a fee. For more information and to register, visit the course page:

Saturday, Sept. 5: Operational Role -- Good Shepherd 5K and Fun Run, Alexandria: This 5K race sponsored by the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, near Mount Vernon High School. The church has requested CERT support for first aid stations at the start/finish line, and at intervals around the course. The race begins at 8:00AM; CERT members should arrive by 7:00AM to be positioned along the race route. We need up to ten CERT members, which will also allow us to put on a demonstration of CERT techniques like improvised stretcher carries at the end of the race. To sign up, please send email to the attention of Bob McDonald via

Thursday, Sept. 17: Victim Actors -- Capital Shield, Fort Belvoir: In conjunction with the annual Capital Shield exercise, Fort Belvoir is planning a multifaceted emergency response exercise designed to challenge (overwhelm) Fort Belvoir's relatively small emergency response team, as well as to test the hospital mass casualty response capability. They need 50+ victim actors, as well as 6-8 controllers and evaluators.

The exercise will simulate a post-hurricane response that will commence 24 hours after the "hurricane," so there won't be a search and extraction element. However, some victim actors will be involved in hazmat/decontamination; transport and hospital treatment; and assistance coping with post-event victim recovery needs (loss, insurance, family needs, financial issues, etc.).

The exercise is planned for the morning of Thursday, September 17 on the Fort Belvoir installation.  Participants will need to be on the post by 6:00AM for briefings, wound makeup, and staging. To enter the base via Tulley Gate, participants will need to pre-submit their names for security screening no later than September 10.

The exercise will start at approximately 8:00AM and should be completed no later than 2:00PM (including hotwash review and check-out). Light breakfast will be served.

This is a great opportunity for CERTs to participate and support Fort Belvoir.  No prior exercise experience is needed to be a victim actor (just a sense of humor); volunteer controllers should have some exercise experience; and volunteer evaluators should have prior exercise evaluation experience.  If you are available and interested in participating please contact one of the personnel listed below:

Get your ham radio license and you might find yourself someday operating a rig like this.
Tuesdays, Oct. 6 to Dec. 8: Training -- Amateur Radio Operator Training, Alexandria:
If you're interested in getting your ham radio license, the Alexandria Radio Club is having its fall amateur radio license class. Many Fairfax CERT members have gotten their ham radio licenses thanks to this class.

When: 7-9PM Tuesdays beginning October 6, 2015 and ending December 8, 2015 (10 weeks). The FCC Exam will be given on December 8th.
Where: Alexandria Police Department HQ, 3600 Wheeler Ave, Alexandria, VA (just off Duke Street, about 1 block west of Quaker Lane).
Cost: ARRL Study Book $30.00 + FCC Exam Fee $15.00 + Misc. Study Class Material $5.00 = $50.00
Register Online:

For more information, contact class coordinator Rich Adamy, KA4GFY,

For additional CERT training classes and activities, visit and search for "CERT."

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

CERTs: Help Spread the Word -- Outreach Roundup, August 25, 2015

Welcome to the Fairfax County CERT Outreach Roundup! We've got some great events coming up in the next few months to promote our CERT program, and we could really use your help to staff events and help spread the word about preparedness!

Upcoming Outreach Events

Jeff McKay, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, shakes hands with Fairfax County CERTs during the 2014 BridgeWalk. Photo: Linda Waller, Office of Supervisor Jeffrey C. McKay.
Tuesday, Sept. 1: 15th Annual Springfield Community Bridge Walk -- Represent CERT at this community event by walking in the parade. The event goes from 7-9PM. All CERT volunteers must wear khaki-colored pants, closed-toe shoes, and the green Fairfax County CERT t-shirt. If you're going to walk and don't yet have a green CERT t-shirt, email me at no later than Friday, August. 28. Get more info and register for the Bridge Walk on the volunteer management site.

American Red Cross's Marco Johnson and Fairfax County CERT's James Sobecke help a festivalgoer in disaster wound makeup at the Wheel of Disaster during the 2014 Ready-Set-Know Festival. Photo: Tracy Friend, Volunteer Fairfax.
Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12 & 13: Ready-Set-Know at the Burke Centre Festival: Last year's event was a great success, and we're looking forward to another great one! We'll be joining other Fairfax County Citizen Corps Council groups to spread the message of CERT and preparedness to hundreds (make that thousands!) of festival-goers. The weekend event goes from 9:30AM-5PM Saturday, and 10:30AM-5PM Sunday at the Burke Centre Conservancy, and you can sign up for 4-hour shifts on either day. Register now on the Ready-Set-Know Eventbrite page (open only to members of CERT and other Citizen Corps Council groups).

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-4: Fall for Fairfax Kidsfest -- Many CERTs are needed for the Outreach booth at this popular kid-focused event at the Fairfax County Government Center. The event runs from 10AM-7PM Saturday; 10AM-5PM Sunday. Multiple CERTs needed for each of the three shifts on Saturday and two shifts on Sunday, and you should be outgoing and comfortable talking to kids and families about the benefits of preparedness. Click to sign up for one or more shifts.

Saturday, Oct. 10: Fire Prevention Week, Fire Station Open Houses -- This is a big one; we need CERTs to staff Outreach tables at volunteer fire stations all around Fairfax County. The more CERTs we can get, the better, and it's also a great chance for Local Neighborhood CERT Teams to build relationships with your local station. The event generally goes from 9AM-4PM (exact times will depend on the station), and we'll be at volunteer fire stations throughout the county. After you register, we'll coordinate with you for preferred time slots and station assignements. Sign up now on the volunteer management site.

All of these Outreach events are a great way for CERT graduates to earn your CERT t-shirt! (Reminder: This isn't a t-shirt giveaway -- shirts are for trained CERTs who are representing CERTs at official events.) Come out, represent CERT, and help spread the word!

CERT Training Classes Are Open -- Tell Your Friends!
Also, don't forget to tell your family and friends about our Fall 2015 CERT Training Classes! Class 100 at the Fire Academy is full, but we still have spots in classes starting September and October -- click to see more details and register: Class 101 (Fire Academy), Class 102 (McLean), and Class 103 (Lorton).

For more information about these events or any other Outreach activities, please email me at Thanks, and we hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Char Silberstein is Outreach Lead for Fairfax County CERT. You can email her at

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Virginia Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday Weekend Ends SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!

This isn't a repeat: In 2015, there are two Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holidays, and this one goes through Sunday, August 9:

That's right, through Sunday, whether you shop online or in a brick-and-mortar store, skip the sales tax on CERT-favorite supplies under $60, including:

Duct Tape:
The Duct Tape Moving Van. Photo: Source
Light Sources Like Flashlights, Lanterns, Glow Sticks, and Headlamps:
Helmet Lights
Helmet Lights by Flickr user Tomas.Quinones. Used under Creative Commons: BY-NC-SA.

First Aid Kits:
First Aid, Second World War
If your first aid kit looks like this, it's probably time for a new one. First Aid, Second World War by Flickr user Telstar Logistics. Used under Creative Commons: BY-NC.

Fire Extinguishers:
Memed screencap from The IT Crowd. Source: Google Images.

Batteries and Cell Phone Chargers:
AA Meeting. Photo: Source

And like last year, chain saws under $350 and generators under $1,000 are also exempt.

Stock up and save! The Virginia Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday Weekend ends midnight, Sunday, August 9.

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

CERT Training Recap: Wide Area Search Operations

[Editor's Note: Brendan O'Neill, CERT Class 80, recently participated in a three-day CERT CERT class on Wide Area Search Operations, which as the name suggests, is about conducting searches that cover a large geographical area. Here's his writeup of the class.]

Fairfax County CERT continuing education’s second offering of the class Wide Area Search (PER-213-WAS), was held at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Training Academy,   Tuesday through Thursday, July 21-23.

Susann Brown, Ken Sutcliffe, and Wayne Ibers, from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), came to Fairfax, VA to teach this course as part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and National Response Framework. The three-day training is designed to help search resources to effectively plan, manage, and conduct search operations for large-incident search response.

We learned how to utilize documents from TEEX and FEMA to plan, prepare, practice and perform wide area search functions as both a search resource (boots on the ground) and as a search manager (overview and management). We used forms such as the Team Assignment Form (WAS 104), Team Debriefing Form (WAS 110), Sketch Grid Map, and FEMA’s Resident Accountability Form and Incident Command System Form: Activity Log (ICS 214) during tabletop exercises and field exercises to demonstrate how proper planning, preparation, practice, and performance aid in the overall management of complicated wide area search functions.

We also learned acronyms like LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) to maintain structural collapse awareness, and standardized GPS waypoint markings (seen below) used for situational updates and archival incident documentation.

Standardized GPS Waypoint markings. Photos by Brendan O'Neill.

During the class, we learned a wide range of topics used to make difficult wide area search operations more systematic, and thus easier to manage. These included Search Tactics, Marking Systems, Exterior Search Markings, Victim Markings, and Wilderness Search Markings.

We also learned techniques for managing the geography of a search, like sketching a map of your search areas and defining smaller search areas (numbered segments) within a larger area (alphabetical divisions). We about the United States National Grid (USNG) system, a great tool for mapping locations -- even without landmarks -- that can be accurate to 1 meter (when using the 10-digit system).

Other essential skills that we learned during the course included search management, resource management, victim management, and hand-off and brief/debrief up the ICS chain.

All in all, the three-day training overview was presented in an easy-to-understand fashion, and left this CERT volunteer better able to understand what is required to manage a wide area search operation. I'm looking forward to the next Wide Area Search class that Fairfax County CERT is planning on offering in October, 2015: Search & Rescue in a Community Disaster (PER 334).

A few of the Fairfax County CERTs who participated in the Wide Area Search training (L-R): Brendan O’Neill, James Sobecke, Jonathan Kiell, and Edgar Rodriquez.

Brendan O’Neill is volunteer Logistics Coordinator for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at

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

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 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Meet Some of Our New CERTs

We meet a lot of people who go through training with the Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). They're a diverse bunch, but they have at least one thing in common: They want to be more prepared so they can help themselves and their communities in case a major disaster strikes. Here are profiles of some of the Fairfax County CERT graduates from our recent classes:

Victor Hampton-Stone (Class 94) works at the Apple Store, and served as Incident Commander (IC) during the Class 94 final exercise. He found out about the class through co-workers (some of whom who were also signed up for an upcoming CERT class).

When I asked Victor about his experience as IC, he said it was quite challenging, and while it may look easy, it's definitely not. He also noted that the live human factor added both difficulty and motivation for the CERTs, with everyone putting pressure on themselves: "You need to save that person."

Overall, he learned a lot from CERT training, calling it a great experience working with friends, and people who came to be friends.

Rich Kline (Class 94) had previously taken CERT training with a program in Maryland. He noted that while the core curriculum was the same, the training he received in Fairfax County CERT was quite a bit different than what he'd taken before.

Working Medical during his class's final drill, he shared a lesson learned for rescuers: No matter how eager you are to get back into the disaster scene, when you get your patients to Medical, you can't just "dump and run." Instead, rescuers need to make sure that patients are uniquely and clearly identified with team number, victim number, and triage color, and that this information is communicated to the Medical lead for accountability.

(Incidentally, of the members of Class 94, Rich had, by far, the longest drive to get to the Fire Academy.)

Monte Sanchez (Class 95) works in IT for Kaiser Permanente. He also served as Incident Commander for his Class 95 final exercise. Like many ICs, he mentioned challenges he had communicating with members and coordinating response activities, but noted that CERT members used good teamwork to work with each other in their respective roles.

An added complication for Class 95 was that, having previously had their classes at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (Fire Station 402), the final was the first time they set foot at the Fire Academy... making it completely unfamiliar territory, to which they had to adapt.

Lynne Larabee (Class 95) is in finance. She and a friend had heard about CERT and decided to take the class together. However, Lynne wasn't able to take the Class 95 final exercise with her class, so she joined Class 94 for theirs, working on a Rescue team.

Although Lynne had been a bit nervous coming into her final with people with whom she hadn't previously worked, she said it was gratifying to see how communicating with her new teammates brought everything together, letting people step into the right roles.

Paris Fontenot (Class 97, on the left) is a student, and learned about CERT through her friend, co-worker, and CERT classmate Alison. Paris decided to take the class because she thought that CERT sounded like a good concept. When I spoke to her (at the end of the second of the seven classes), she already felt that the training was very informative and that she was learning a lot.

Alison Huang (Class 97, on the right) is also a student. Alison has a personal connection to CERT, having learned about the program from her boyfriend, an EMT who is currently enrolled in Firefighter School in Fairfax County. This means he also trains at the Fire Academy... though not at the same time as the CERTs. (Another big difference is, when he goes into a burn building, it's probably on fire.)

Evelyn Turner (Class 97) is a retired teacher, and learned about CERT from a fellow member of the Vienna Women's Club. Evelyn, who has already participated in disaster recovery efforts with the Mennonite Disaster Service and Day to Serve, wanted to expand on her skill set, as well as connect with other people involved in helping others though disaster response and recovery.

Will Gustafson (Class 97) is a marketing manager at an IT services company. He learned about the CERT program by talking to CERTs who were staffing an Outreach table at a "Touch-a-Truck" event in May. Nine days later, he was taking his first CERT class. (We on the Outreach team love these kinds of stories, since we can directly connect new CERT student signups to our Outreach activities.)

Finally, here's a special story featuring two more members from Class 97. Bobby Shrestha (left) works for the Department of the Navy; Suraj Poudel (right) is a sales manager. Both were born in Nepal, and have friends and family members living there, including some affected by the major earthquake that struck in April.

As the response to the disaster unfolded, Bobby saw local news stories about the  Virginia Task Force 1, Fairfax County's elite urban search and rescue team, and their deployment to Nepal. He shared that information with Suraj, and together they sought out more information about Task Force 1, learning about the Fairfax County CERT program in the process. They felt that CERT training was a way they could prepare themselves to help others in case of a disaster, as well as give back to their communities. (Through CERT, they also learned about a volunteer opportunity to staff a call center run by USAID's Center for International Disaster Information, set up to handle inquiries about the Nepal earthquake response.)

We love telling stories about our CERTs. Whether you're a new Fairfax County CERT graduate or a longtime participant in the program, if you'd like to share your CERT experience with CERT in a profile, please email me at

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

CERTs in Action: Traffic Accident

CERTs don't self-deploy, and they don't go around looking for trouble. But when something happens right in front of a trained CERT, there's nothing that says that he or she can't use skills learned in CERT to safely help out until first responders arrive.

CERT 45 exercise, June 2010.
That's what happened last Monday when CERT John Morris (Class 45) encountered a two-car accident on Braddock Road. (John and I were classmates in Class 45. Here's a picture of him from when he was Incident Commander during our final exercise -- he's the guy wearing sunglasses.)

Now, judging by the photos, as car accidents go, it wasn't too bad. From a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is "fender bender" and 10 is "MICHAEL BAY MOVIE!!!," this one was probably a 3.5. You can see that one of the vehicles (an SUV) was on its side, but according to John, no one seemed seriously injured, and nothing was on fire,etc.

One of the two vehicles involved in the accident. Photos by John Morris

This overturned SUV was the second vehicle involved in the accident.
So, while there was no need for John to run in with a fire extinguisher, slap on a pressure dressing, or whip out a seat belt cutter, there were still simple things he was able to do to help out before first responders arrived.

Here's what happened, in John's own words:
"Just to clarify, both drivers were OK. I spoke with the woman in the SUV turned on its side and made sure she was OK, and didn't have any major injuries. She had a good gash on her elbow and I was able to hand her some gauze wraps that I had in my 'go bag' in my truck. She wiped her arm off to make sure the bleeding had stopped. I asked her some questions and tried to get her to stay still but she insisted she was OK, and wanted to climb out of the back hatch that opened upon impact. I helped clear the 'stuff' out of the way and she crawled out the back. The Police Department and Fire Department arrived and I left."
So, let's do some Saturday night quarterbacking: John didn't make things worse; he gave the driver some gauze so she could self-treat her minor injury; he didn't commit assault trying to force her to stay in the vehicle; and he got out of the way when police and fire personnel arrived.

All told, sounds like a good morning's work for a citizen, and a job well done. Good work, John!

Have a thought about John's response, or your own story to share about a time when you used your CERT skills to help out? Leave a comment below.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

CERT Tip: Keep Emergency Contact Info Under Your Hat (er, Helmet)

During a recent CERT final exercise at the Fire Academy, a CERT student experienced a medical emergency.

Now, there's no great place to have a medical emergency, but as places go, the Fire Academy during a CERT exercise is better than most. Within seconds, the CERT was being treated by CERT instructors equipped with the first aid bag they keep around for real-world emergencies, and assisted by firefighters and EMTs who were at the Academy for their own training exercise.

The CERT had also done something very helpful (following earlier suggestions from instructors), by writing their emergency contact information on a piece of duct tape (taped to itself, sticky side to sticky side), and securing it with velcro it to the inside of their helmet.

Alternately, you can write your info on a notecard, put it inside a ziploc bag, and tape the bag to the inside of your helmet (between the liner and the shell), like this:

CERT Tip: Write your emergency contact info on a card, put it in a ziploc bag, and place the bag in your helmet.

Now, we had all the class members' emergency contact info on file, but having it right in the helmet definitely saved time and made things easier. So keeping this information on your person would be even more valuable if you ever got into trouble responding during a real-world disaster. (And who's the most important person in CERT? You are.)

The information on the card should include:
  • Your name
  • Your CERT program and class number
  • Medical information, including conditions, medications, and allergies
  • Emergency contacts' name and phone number
Alternately, our Logistics CERTs pointed out that there are a bunch of templates you can find online (example: free medical ID card) that you can use to print out personalized cards that you can laminate or seal into a plastic bag.

Have any other tips you'd like to share with your fellow CERTs? Drop me an email or leave a comment below.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Congratulations to Our Award-Winning CERT Volunteers!

[Editor's Note: Happy Friday, CERTs! Here's the text of an email sent by Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Volunteer Liaison Jeffrey Katz]

America has a long and proud tradition of volunteer service. Now more than ever, volunteers are renewing their commitment to helping others and making new connections that bring us closer together as families, as neighbors, as communities, and as a nation.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award program is a great way to thank and honor those who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.

Recognizing and honoring volunteers sets a standard for service, encourages a sustained commitment to civic participation, and inspires others to make service a central part of their lives. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes individuals, families, and groups that have achieved a certain standard – measured by the number of hours of service during a 12-month period or cumulative hours earned over the course of a lifetime.

Awards are given to individuals 16 and older who have completed 100 or more hours in a calendar year.

Based on the data in VMS (Volunteer Management System), the following CERT volunteers have achieved this milestone for 2014, by either taking CERT classes and/or volunteering in other capacities for the CERT program:

Gary Nisker402 hours
James Sobecke317 hours
Susan Ledgerwood303 hours
Jack Ledgerwood267 hours
Anita Van der Merwe267 hours
Missy Tuttle-Ferrio266 hours
Brendan O'Neill229 hours
Jonathan Kiell222 hours
Donna Hosek184 hours
James McPheeters170 hours
Edgar Rodriguez166 hours
Char Silberstein150 hours
Ginny Katona144 hours
Carlos Santiso140 hours
Lani Young127 hours
Joseph Loong125 hours
Steve Eng124 hours
Timothy Hosek108 hours
Kathleen Jones107 hours
Mary Moon107 hours
The individuals listed above will be receiving their pins and official letter in July.

Congratulations to all!

For more information about the President’s Volunteer Service Award, please visit

Thank you,

Jeffrey F. Katz
Volunteer Liaison
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Class Highlights: CERT 95 - Vienna

Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 95 took place at a location out in the community -- the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. This was not unusual -- in fact, it's pretty standard: If you can provide a minimum of 12 students and a location to train, we'll send CERT trainers out to you, for free.

What was unusual (and in fact, may be a first for us) was having a community class perform its final graduation exercise at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. And that's precisely what happened on April 30, 2015, when the students of CERT Class 95 came to the Fire Academy for their final exercise.

Before they could get started with the scenario, though, they needed to get through two practical skills tests. The first was fire suppression -- using fire extinguishers to put out a small, instructor-controlled fire:

CERT fire suppression teams work in teams of two. All photos: Joe Loong

The second skills test was lifting and cribbing -- using teamwork and simple machines like wooden blocks, levers, and wedges to raise and support a load (think moving an obstacle, or freeing a survivor trapped underneath).

CERT students discuss their plan of attack before trying to move the load.

CERTs work the levers on command.

With the skills tests completed, the CERTs went on to their final exercise, which took place at the garden apartment, inside the Academy's High Bay.

Responding to a simulated severe weather incident, the CERTs used the skills and knowledge they'd gained over the previous 25 hours of training to set up their Command Post, organize themselves, and go to work to survey the scene and search for survivors.

CERT rescue teams check in at the Command Post.
Here, the CERTs had to deal with new uncertainties -- not only were they in an unfamiliar location, but this was their first time dealing with the challenge of live human victim actors, done up in realistic wound makeup (known as moulage).

At first, some of the CERTs were hesitant. Working with live strangers is different from treating classmates or rescue dummies, and light years away from dealing with plywood gingerbread cutouts. But as they focused on the problem, they drew on their training and set about triaging, treating, tagging, and transporting simulated survivors:

A CERT Rescue team transports a survivor to Medical.
The purpose of CERT is to train people to safely help themselves and their communities until first responders can arrive. In a major disaster, help might not arrive for hours (or even days), so CERTs must be prepared to give continuing care to the survivors that they rescue.

Medical CERTs assess and care for Yellow and Red-tagged survivors at Medical.
At the conclusion of the exercise, CERT students and instructors gathered to debrief and share lessons learned.

Congratulations to the CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 95!
Congratulations to all the new CERTs of Class 95! We hope you'll stay involved with the program by taking advantage of our many advanced training classes; participating as a responder or victim actor in an exercise; talking up CERT to your neighbors and friends; or coming to the monthly CERT program meetings (usually at the Fairfax County Government Center, every third Tuesday from 7-9:30pm).

Want to get CERT training at your place? If you're part of a homeowner's association, workplace, or other community group, can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, and can provide a training space (community center, clubhouse, meeting room, etc.), CERT instructors will come to you! Email James Sobecke at for more info.

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Come Play! CERT Mass Casualty Exercise, Sat. June 6, Lorton Training Site

Let's be real: How long has it been since you put on your CERT gear and practiced your CERT skills in a full-scale exercise, featuring realistically moulaged victim actors in an authentically damaged disaster site?

At Lorton exercises, we can really make a mess and simulate "big and bad."
Or, for our recent CERT graduates, how'd you like to test your skills in a disaster response scene that's 10 times bigger and more intense than what you went through?

Does anyone else smell smoke?
Join us Saturday, June 6, from 7AM to 3PM at the Lorton Training Site (home of Fairfax County's elite urban search and rescue team, Virginia Task Force 1) for a CERT mass casualty exercise that will push your CERT training to the limit!

Welcome to Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue's Lorton Training Site.
Used by professional first responders who need a realistically damaged urban disaster scene, the Lorton Training Site at the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center provides a unique opportunity for CERTs to train in an authentic disaster scene.

Views of the authentically damaged Lorton buildings.

When filled with live victim actors wearing high-quality wound makeup, it's the most realistic training CERTs will get short of an actual disaster. (Also, all victim actors can come free! The more, the merrier! See the registration page for more info.)

Does this bring back any memories? Reminder: It's just makeup.
We're looking for responders and victim actors to play in the exercise (as well as a few more controllers, evaluators, and ham radio operators). We'd especially like to invite trained CERTs from other programs in the National Capital Region to participate as responders (so we can work together like we do during CERT CONs).

Also new this year, especially for our Local Neighborhood CERT Teams: You can register and respond as a team. Just choose the "Create a team" or "Join a team" options at signup. (And don't worry if you're not on a team, or you want to work with CERTs from other jurisdictions -- you can still sign up for the drill as an individual!)

For only $7 (victim actors pay nothing), you'll receive breakfast and lunch from one of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's Canteen trucks, as well as the opportunity to take an exclusive tour of the Lorton Training Site used by Virginia Task Force 1.

For full details, visit our signup page:

Sign up today and we'll see you at Lorton on June 6!

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Class Highlights: CERT 94 - Fire Academy

Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 94 started April 20, 2015, meeting Mondays and Wednesdays at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. I hadn't planned on following them through all seven of their classes (unlike in our Shadowing CERTs series), but somehow I ended up doing just that (assisting for six classes and popping in on the other one during a break in another training class).

See the full album of photos on our Facebook page. Don't forget to like us!

(Holding classes twice a week at the Academy is a relatively new model for our program, and it seems to be working well. CERTs get through the entire program in a month, and training seems to build up faster... despite the fact that students receive the same 25 hours of classroom and hands-on training as in the weekly class setting.)

CERT 94 kicked off with Class 1, which was all about introductions -- to the Academy, to their classmates, to the CERT concept, and to the hazards they may encounter in the community and during a disaster.

The students also received their CERT helmets and backpacks:

CERTs of Class 94 during their first class at the Academy. All photos: Joe Loong
Two days later, Class 2 began with a drill (as would all classes from this point on): Told to gear up, the students had little idea of what to do (they hadn't been taught much at this stage) as they were thrown into a simple drill.

Adjunct Instructor John Mayers acts as Incident Commander during the students' first drill.
Following the drill, the CERTs learned how to operate during a disaster response, including how to choose priorities, perform a size-up, and implement the Incident Command System. This was followed by a round-robin of demonstrations, where they went deeper in depthon the CERT division of labor (Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue).

Beginning with Class 3, things started to get a lot more hands-on... and complicated. In their opening drill, the students started to encounter simulated victims -- both plywood and human -- that they had to deal with. Their subsequent classroom instruction built on this, introducing the CERTs to Disaster Medical Operations, or how to save lives and care for patients in a mass casualty scenario where professional responders are delayed.

CERTs gather simulated victims (plywood "gingerbread" people) in the High Bay during the drill.
Class 4 continued the CERTs' instruction in disaster medical operations. During their opening drill, students had to apply what they'd learned to date, conducting searches and rapidly triaging, tagging, and treating (and later transporting) survivors they encountered.

CERTs maneuver a simulated victim (a plywood "gingerbread" dummy) down the stairs of a burn building.
When they returned to the classroom, they learned about performing head-to-toe assessments and maintaining patient care in the Medical area for as long as it takes -- that is, until professional responders arrive.

After their opening drill (which again, built on everything the CERTs had previously learned), Class 5 was all about hazards, ranging from those they might find in the community, to ones at disaster scenes, to the threat of terrorism, to very real but invisible hazards like debilitating stress.

My patient's-eye-view while being carried on a blanket stretcher by a transport team.
Class 6, Light Search & Rescue Operations, incorporated safe search and size-up techniques, and added use of simple machines -- levers and wedges -- to move obstacles and extricate survivors. The CERTs then used their newly gained lifting and cribbing skills to practice moving stable and unstable loads.

CERTs practice lifting and cribbing techniques on a stable load, to which Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez has added his weight.
Because the Fire Academy was booked solid with training activities, the CERT's final exercise was pushed back to Wednesday, giving Class 94 a bonus "Class 6.5" in which to work on their skills. It was also a chance for Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez to play with a Bluetooth portable speaker broadcasting a loop of sound effects:

Two days later, the CERTs of Class 94 gathered for Class 7, their final exercise, where they had to put together everything they've learned -- from setting up Command, Accountability, Logistics, & Medical; to doing scene size-up; treating, triaging, and tagging patients in under 30 seconds; and everything else.

Plus, they had to do it facing live human victim actors made up with realistic moulage (fake wound makeup):

Victim actors show off their simulated wounds (contusions and lacerations).
First, the CERTs got to practice their fire suppression skills:

Then came the drill, where CERTs had to respond to a storm-ravaged apartment building and begin rescue operations, finding, treating, and caring for the survivors they encountered.

CERT rescuers perform a walking assist to get a survivor to Medical.
This exercise also included a few elements I'd never before seen in a CERT final exercise, including a simulated sucking chest wound that needed to be treated, and a simulated gas line that needed to be shut off:

A CERT rescuer treats a survivor, applying an occlusive dressing to a simulated sucking chest wound.

CERTs shut off a simulated natural gas supply line (with a SCBA air tank providing hissing sound effects).
Here, you can see video of search and rescue operations during the drill:

Finally, after a "hot wash" debrief, the CERTs completed their graduation final exercise at the Fire Academy, May 13, 2015.

Congratulations to the CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 94!
To the new Fairfax County CERTs of Class 94: Congratulations and welcome! We hope you'll continue to be active and train with our CERT program. To these trained CERTs and all others, we've got a great training opportunity coming up June 6, 2015 -- a CERT mass casualty exercise at the Virginia Task Force 1 Lorton Training Site. Sign up now!

CERT training is free and open to people who live or work in Fairfax County. For more information about CERT training, either at the Fire Academy or at locations throughout the community, see About CERT Training.

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