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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Save the Date to Save on Duct Tape (& More)!

Memorial Day weekend is mere days away! (Or may have already started, depending on how sneaky you are.) We're posting this early so it doesn't get lost in the holiday shuffle -- in addition to grilling, swimming, and all those other traditional unofficial-start-of-summer activities, if you're planning on hitting any Memorial Day sales, keep this in mind:

Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday starts Monday, May 25! (And ends at midnight, May 31.)

Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday: May 25-31

During this period, you won't be charged Virginia sales tax on CERT-friendly preparedness gear (whether you buy at a store or from Amazon or another online retailer) when you buy the following items under $60, including:
  • Duct tape!

  • Batteries and cell phone chargers
  • Flashlights, lanterns, headlamps, and glow sticks
  • First aid kits
  • Rope and tarps
  • Weather radios and two-way radios
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fuel and water storage containers
  • And more!
And like last year, chain saws under $350 and generators under $1,000 are also exempt.

So be smart -- check out the Memorial Day sales specials for gear you need, and save on sales tax on top of that!
    The full list is below -- it's the same as last year's. You can see more information, including frequently asked questions, at the Virginia Department of Taxation site:

    Reminder, all this ties into National Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 24-31), which is just before the official start of US hurricane season (June 1).

    In case you needed to be reminded on why hurricanes are a threat, see the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center's YouTube video series on hurricanes:

    Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day holiday, everyone!

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

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    Congratulations to All Our New Fairfax County CERT Graduates!

    First off, I apologize for getting a little behind in posting recaps from the final exercises for Fairfax County CERT Classes 94 & 95. (And from the Dulles disaster drill... and the moulage workshops... and....) We're working on it.

    In the meantime, please join me in congratulating the CERTs from our most recent training classes:

    Class 90 - George Mason University: I wrote previously about GMU Class 90, where Adjunct and Volunteer Instructors went over to the GMU campus to teach CERT as part of the students' coursework. Here's an update with a team photo taken a few days after their final exercise, when the new CERTs received their certificates:

    CERTs of GMU Class 90 receive their certificates. Photo: Brian Talbot.

    Class 91 - Tysons Corner and Class 92 - Burke: I already wrote about Classes 91 and 92, which were taught at locations in the community, but I'll feature their class photos again for the sake of completeness:

    CERTs of Tysons Corner Class 91. Photo: James Sobecke.

    CERTS of Burke Class 92. Photo: Donna Hosek.
    Class 94 - Fire Academy (There was no Class 93):

    CERTs of Fire Academy Class 94 (as well as one member of Class 95). Photo: Joe Loong

    Class 95 - Vienna: This CERT class trained at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, but performed their final exercise at the Fire Academy, which I believe is a first for us:

    CERTs of Class 95. Photo: Joe Loong
    Class 96 - Mount Vernon: Class 96 trained at the Mount Vernon Government Center in Alexandria, and completed their final exercise at Fire Station11 (Penn Daw).

    Photo: Jim McPheeters

    If you're interested in taking CERT training, as of right now, there are a few spots left in Class 97, which starts this Monday, May 18 at the Fire Academy; the class meets Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30pm. Register now.

    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.

    Congratulations to all the new CERTs! We hope you'll stay involved with us, whether it's participating as a victim actor in an exercise; taking advantage of our many advanced training classes; 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).

    CERTs, please join us in welcoming all the new members!

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