Friday, January 16, 2015

Just Announced: CERT Winter/Spring 2015 Classes!

Registration is now open for Fairfax County CERT's Winter/Spring 2015 classes. See below for details: All classes are free, and students will receive CERT disaster response gear at no charge. Space is limited... they're filling up fast, so register now, then tell your friends!

CERT students practice fire suppression techniques. Photo: Joe Loong

Registration is OPEN for the following classes:

* [CLASS FULL] CERT 91 will meet in Tysons Corner on four consecutive Saturdays: February 21, 28, March 7, and 14. Classes will meet in the morning (8-10:30AM) and afternoon (11:30AM-2PM) -- students must attend both morning and afternoon sessions. Also, for this class priority will be given to members of the DoD National Language Service Corps; however, like all of these CERT classes, all people 18 or older who live or work in Fairfax County can sign up.

* CERT 92 is being held at the Burke Conservancy in Burke on Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-9:30PM. Class dates are March 4, 9, 11, 16, 23, 25, 30, and April 1.

* CERT 93 meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy, Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 8, 15, 22, and 29.

* CERT 94 also meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy; however, class will meet on both Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are April 29, May 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, and 20.

* CERT 95 is being held at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Vienna on Thursday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are March 5, 12, 26, April 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30.

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. Learn more about training with Fairfax County CERT.

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.

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 91, CERT 92, CERT 93, CERT 94, CERT 95
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 

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Are Here: Local CERT Teams in the Process of Forming

The Fairfax County CERT Program is seeking your participation in the establishment and expansion of local CERT Teams throughout Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County CERT Program is moving forward with the development of Local (community or neighborhood) CERT Teams. Consistent with the CERT mission, the goal of this effort is to encourage and foster the formation of Local CERT Teams by bringing together interested CERTs who live or work in close proximity to each other, to form teams capable of responding locally to disasters when professional responders are overwhelmed or delayed in their ability to respond; “neighbors helping neighbors.”

There currently are a small number of local teams; we would like to expand this number where there is sufficient support.

If you are interested in joining, leading, or helping to form a local CERT team in your neighborhood, your community, or where you work, please send an email to with the following information:

  • Name:
  • CERT Class (if known):
  • Email:
  • Address (please include your zip code to help us sort):
  • Phone number:
  • If you are already part of a local CERT Team, please indicate the Team Name:
  • Please indicate if you are interested or willing to help organize a team:
  • Provide any other information you feel is relevant:

It may take a few weeks to compile data, but we will reach back out to all of those who respond with a plan to share information and coordinate local networking.

The Fairfax County CERT Program needs your support.

Thank you,

CERT Team Working Group

Thursday, January 8, 2015

CERTs Tuned in, Turned on to Radio for Emergency Communications

Communicating on the radio is just like talking on the phone, right? It's easy; everyone knows how to do it; so why do we need to practice it?

If you've ever had to talk with someone who wouldn't let you get a word in, or who you couldn't understand, or who took forever to get to the point... then, make it so that only one person at a time can talk... and finally, throw in the confusion and stress of a disaster, then you'll see that it's harder than it looks at first glance.

The December 2 Communications Practical Exercise was a followup class, putting CERTs to the test on the knowledge they learned in previous CERT Emergency Communications classes.

After a brief classroom refresher on radio use and procedures (including an update from CERT Adjunct Instructor Brian Talbot on changes to Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's radio prowords -- in a nutshell, "Copy" is back to meaning "understood," and "Direct" has been replaced by the more common "Affirmative"), the CERT students were divided into teams of two, given handheld FRS radios, and sent to Division leaders for assignments.

Division controllers during the radio exercise. Clockwise from top left: Alpha: Edgar Rodriguez; Bravo: Brendan O'Neill; Charlie: James Sobecke; Delta: Carlos Santiso

In this scenario, CERT searchers were given the mission of conducting a damage assessment of the storm-damaged Fire Academy grounds. Teams had to identify pre-placed cones marking hazards, survivors, and other notable items in their search area, then use proper radio procedures to quickly and accurately report their findings to their Division leads.

CERT search team members check in with Division Bravo Lead for call signs and instructions.

Complicating matters was weather that matched the scenario: cold and rainy. Personally, I learned a valuable lesson about using waterproof notebooks to take notes. (In fact, the very next day, I ordered a bunch for my own supplies). The benefit of using plastic bags to protect radio equipment and sheet protectors to protect maps also became apparent.

In the after-action, students and instructors discussed challenges they encountered, including the proper time and place for repeat-backs (reading back information to verify accurate reception) and what to do in the event of unreliable or lost radio communications.

Also, the Division controllers who managed the radio nets (the hardest job of the evening), noted that they had initially set up too close together, making it hard to communicate over the noise.

There's a reason why radio communication isn't a part of the core CERT curriculum -- it deserves its own training, which these classes do a great job in fulfilling. But CERTs interested in getting deeper into radio would find even more the following week...

Hams and CERTs
On December 10, CERTs interested in amateur (Ham) radio met in Fairfax County's Alternate Emergency Operations Center (AEOC, located in the basement of the Fairfax County Government Center), to learn more about the role of amateur radio in CERT and emergency communications.

As previously noted, there's a natural overlap between CERTs and Hams, with many getting involved in one program, then discovering the other. In fact, most of the meeting attendees had already gotten their Ham licenses, or were in the process of doing so. However, many of the them hadn't gotten on the air since, and were looking for help on what to do next.

CERT James Sobecke outlines the role of Hams during emergencies.

In his presentation, CERT Volunteer Instructor James Sobecke talked about the role of Hams during emergencies, and some of the ways that CERTs could become involved. One of them is to join the Fairfax County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which currently runs a weekly radio net for ARES members to check in.

CERT and ARES member Mary Moon checks in to the Wednesday night ARES radio net in the radio room at the AEOC.

Another possibility is developing more CERT-specific radio capabilities, including a Fairfax County CERT radio net (similar to one that has been tested over the past few months), using the Fairfax County CERT website to provide resources for CERTs interested in building their emergency radio skills, and incorporating more amateur radio in CERT training exercises.

Mary Moon displays some of her radio equipment.

As demonstrated by the people in the room, there's a lot of interest in developing CERT emergency communication capabilities using amateur radio, so stay tuned for more developments.

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