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

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