A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) Support Full-Scale Airport Exercise

May 2019

On April 27, Arlington CERT (ArlCERT) and volunteers from the National Capital Region supported APEX19. Simulating a crash landing, it was a full-scale emergency exercise at the Ronald Reagan National Airport. It is just one way the airport practices its emergency operations plans. Events like this also allow CERT volunteers to support their community’s preparedness efforts.

ArlCERT coordinated 128 volunteers. These volunteers served with airport staff, hospitals, government agencies, and the media. Les Garrison, ArlCERT’s coordinator, led volunteer efforts. Garrison became involved with preparedness after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Just two weeks later, he held the first ArlCERT meeting in his living room. Since then, ArlCERT has trained more than 800 volunteers. Garrison began planning for volunteers six months before the exercise. Early on, he attended meetings to coordinate details. He also toured locations for the event. Then in February, he invited CERTs from across the National Capital Region. This year, Garrison and his team enlisted more volunteers than ever.

Chasta Piatakovas managed ArlCERT’s outreach and registration. She joined CERT to learn more about preparedness after taking the Until Help Arrives class. She stressed that the exercise “would not be possible without volunteers.” These volunteers took on a variety of roles, from administrative support to acting as victims. In these ways, they helped create a realistic disaster setting.

As actors, volunteers each had a role to play. For example, Allison VanOcker, Marjorie Windelberg, and Tahroma Alligood, CERT members in Alexandria, Virginia, adopted new personas. Their stories created realistic stress for the first responders. Actors portrayed different levels of injuries, spoke various languages, and showed distress. VanOcker, for example, acted as a victim with serious, but not life-threatening injuries. Windelberg was not injured but refused to leave her friend, who did have an injury. Alligood pretended to be pregnant and injured. When first responders tried to help, she refused to walk. Her role even took her to the hospital.

Moulage also helped create a realistic scene. Moulage is the art of creating lifelike mock injuries and wounds. Many volunteers, like Alligood, also worked on the moulage team. The team gave actors mock bruising, gaping wounds, and injuries from shrapnel. One woman even had “glass” between her eyes the entire exercise.

Sue MacLane and Beth Scott led the moulage team and Patricia Todd led the administrative team. Much like Garrison, their work began long before the day of the event. MacLane and Scott, for example, trained volunteer moulage artists and led sessions to create moulage molds. Todd organized trainings for volunteers to brief patient actors the day of the exercise. Together, they tracked more than 100 volunteers’ injuries and stories. According to Garrison, these exercises address important and real risks. These risks keep him involved in CERT and inspire his leadership. Taking part in full-scale exercises like this, Garrison says, is important. It allows people to gain valuable familiarity with professional emergency response.

Exercises like APEX19 are required every 3 years by the Federal Aviation Administration. CERT Program Managers and Coordinators can reach out through their sponsoring organizations to other agencies to learn about participating in exercises. In addition to airports, hospitals, public transportation, and local police and firefighting units may have exercises CERTs can help with.

“The keys to success are great people,” Garrison notes, as he recounts the hundreds of volunteer hours that made APEX19 a successful. Ultimately, he says, “the beauty of planning is to make sure that surprises don’t happen.”

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.