Wednesday, July 24, 2013

National Capital Region CERTs Deploy to Northern Virginia for CERT Con 2013

On June 29th and 30th, members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) from across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region gathered at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale for two days of training, idea sharing, and camaraderie at the third annual Community Emergency Response Team Conference -- CERT Con.

The event was hosted by Fairfax County CERT, in partnership with CERT Con 2011 host Montgomery County CERT, CERT Con 2012 host Georgetown University CERT, Anne Arundel County CERT, Prince George’s County CERT, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

CERTs network at CERT Con 2013. All photos by Joe Loong, used under Creative Commons License.

Leaders Recognize Value of CERT

L-R: Fire Chief Richard Bowers; Director Brian Moe; Supervisor John Cook; Director Dave McKernan
The CERT program turns regular citizens into resources who can help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a widespread disaster where professional first responders are delayed. Introductory remarks from leaders from around the region recognized the value of the CERT program in increasing local communities' ability to prepare for and respond to disasters.

Master of ceremonies Chad McWreath opened the event by highlighting the importance of first responders in the community, saying "People like you saved my life" after an accident.

Fire Chief Richard Bowers, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, noted that he was "thrilled and amazed" at the number of CERT Con attendees who were at the event to make a difference.

Similarly, Brian Moe, Director, Office of Homeland Security, Prince George's County, lauded CERTs for volunteering and being willing and able to provide guidance and leadership to their neighbors.

Continuing the theme, Supervisor John C. Cook, of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (Braddock District), noted that all members of the community have a role to play in public safety.

Closing out the opening remarks, Dave McKernan, Director of the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management, exhorted all participants to be safe and learn throughout the seminars and training exercise.

Preparing for All Hazards

James Jackson, Delmarva
Search and Rescue Group
on urban SAR techniques.
The goal of the Saturday CERT Con training was to help CERT team members prepare for and respond to disasters. Sessions covered a wide range of topics encompassing "all-hazards" and "whole of community" philosophies including:
  • Stress and Trauma Management for First Responders
  • Search and Rescue Operations
  • Wilderness First Aid
  • Navigating Your Safety in a Disaster
  • Pet First Aid
  • Disaster Communications
  • Hazmat Awareness for First Responders
  • Traffic and Crowd Management Skills
  • WMD/IED Threat Picture
  • Deafness and Hearing Loss: The Communication Challenges for Emergency Responders
  • Planning and Delivering a Local Exercise
All sessions included time for questions and group discussion, and were led by subject matter experts who graciously donated their time and expertise to sharpen the skill sets of CERT volunteers.

Past Performance and CERT's Future

IMG_1638 IMG_1685 IMG_1741
Dante Randazzo, FEMAMeagan van Harte, NYC OEMLinda Rubin, VDEM
Keynote speaker Dante Randazzo, founder of the Georgetown University CERT program and now with FEMA, spoke about challenges, opportunities, and priorities for expanding the CERT program. Mr. Randazzo stressed the importance of growing CERT through engaging youth, college campuses, and the private sector, noting that "CERT without borders is CERT without limits."

Later, Meagan van Harte, featured speaker from the New York City Office of Emergency Management, gave a detailed presentation on the important role  New York City CERT volunteers played during the response to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

The first day closed with comments of thanks, encouragement, and appreciation for CERT volunteers from Linda Rubin, Citizen Corps program manager for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Day 2: Full-Scale Exercise

CERT training is known for combining classroom training and practical application, and CERT Con 2013 was no exception. The conference was capped by a full-day, full-scale exercise at the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue training facility in Lorton, VA, under the guidance of Fairfax County CERT instructors Stephen Willey and Mike Forgy.

CERTs deploy to the disaster scene.
Interjurisdictional teams, led by Incident Commander James Weikert of Fairfax County CERT, worked together rescuing victims after a simulated earthquake. The exercise gave the visiting teams an opportunity to use their skills, compare techniques, and work together in a large-scale scenario that involved over 200 rescuers and victims, spread across multiple buildings in a highly realistic environment.

CERTs attend to a victim actor.
Weikert said, "The teams worked well together, which is important because in a real-world disaster that is exactly what teams will have to do," adding, "The exercise accomplished the teamwork we had hoped for."



CERTs and First Responders Collaborate

Fairfax County fire trucks and equipment participating in the exercise.
In addition to training National Capital Region CERT teams, the exercise made training history when the Training Division of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department brought in firefighters, fire apparatus, EMTs, and ambulances from Battalion 7 to participate.

Incident command handoff.
Just as in a "real-world" situation, Incident Command of the exercise was successfully transferred from CERT volunteer to First Responder. Incident Commander, Capt. Timothy Barb of Battalion 7, stated, "CERT is a resource for First Responders as well as neighborhood residents. Having a team of people that have been trained in the Incident Command System (ICS) and how to do things safely are a great plus in saving lives during a disaster."

CERT and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue
personnel manage the Medical area.
"Having the Command Post and Medical area set up prior to our arrival with rescue operations underway was a key component to the success of the exercise. Very quickly, I was able to deploy my resources where needed and begin transporting the injured [actors]. In a large widespread disaster, CERT will be a serious asset to our First Responder force."

CERTs and First Responders work together to transport a victim actor.

A Volunteer-Driven Effort

Fairfax County's Dana
Powers and Jeffrey Katz.
No event can be successful without dedicated leadership, and Fairfax County’s CERT program managers Jeffrey Katz and Dana Powers led a volunteer group through the conference planning process.

"We were proud of our volunteers -- they worked hard, planned well and their efforts culminated with a successful conference," said Katz.

"In the beginning, planning a two-day conference for 200 attendees and guests seemed like a big task," Dana Powers offered, "but when we divided up the duties, our CERT conference volunteers took charge and accomplished each task with enthusiasm."

CERT CON 2014 will be hosted by Prince George’s County CERT, with dates still to be determined.

For more information about Fairfax County CERT and how to get involved visit:

For additional information, video, or photos of this event, visit the Fairfax County CERT Volunteers Facebook page or email

Written by Mike Piccione, with assistance from Judy Howell and Joe Loong.