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

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