It has been a hot, muggy May day — the kind that usually spawns thunderstorms. A severe thunderstorm watch was issued early in the day. At 2 p.m., the watch was upgraded to a warning.
Then there was the sound of breaking glass in the Human Resource office building and screams of injured co-workers in the lobby. The building's southeastern corner had been struck by a tornado causing a partial collapse accompanied by the smell of smoke.
This was one of the disaster simulations faced by the first business organization to undertake a Citizen Emergency Response Team [CERT] training course offered by the Alexandria Fire Department. They graduated this past Thursday.
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD] paid for their own equipment and took their own time to be the first business organization to qualify a CERT team," said Richard Sisler, director, Public Education, Alexandria Fire Department.
"We have developed a security plan but we needed to train our safety team. CERT not only helps us in our overall business continuity but it also gives us a chance to reach out to the community," said Leon Hayes, co-chair, ASCD Safety Committee.
"ASCD has a strong community outreach program. This was a great match between us and the community," he pointed out.
"The program is very well conceived and explicit. There may not be a 911 to call in certain scenarios. We may be our only resource," explained Gillian Fitzpatrick, facilities manager, ASCD. "It's a very enlightening program."
Fitzpatrick also noted, "We've always used the fire department as our mentors. "I would encourage any organization to take this course. Luckily, we have the leadership that supports this program."
In addition to full time staff, some of ASCD's independent contractors also participated in the course. "I'm very impressed with the training we had to go through. Working out of a classroom is one thing. But at the "burn building" you get a whole different perspective," said Devian Johnson, a Pitney Bowes employee and contractor to ASCD.
An international, non-profit organization headquartered at 1703 N.
Beauregard Street, ASCD has a staff of 195 and represents the interests of 160,000 educators from 135 countries with more than 60 affiliate groups. Membership spans the entire education profession — superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members.
"Businesses can help us with preparedness outreach. So far CERT training interest has come through business fire prevention education," Sisler acknowledged.
"We are trying to get businesses, and more particularly their safety teams, CERT trained. That way they can not only help themselves but also the communities where they are located," Sisler said.
AS FOR MESHING WITH busy corporate schedules, Sisler assures, "We are working with businesses based on their schedules. Some are doing the training after work hours while others are working it in to break periods or near the end of the work day."
In that vain, 12 members of PBS's [Public Broadcast System] management team is going through this training at the present time, according to O'Brian McKinley, director, PBS Technical Operations. He is also a graduate of the Virginia CERT instructor program with a background in both broadcasting and EMS.
"With being a 24-hour broadcast facility and, as with any business, we want our employees to be as well equipped as possible in the event of an emergency," McKinley explained. "I am working in combination with Alexandria Fire Department in conducting the classes."
All training modules for PBS's CERT program are being conducted on site at their headquarters at Braddock Place except for sessions at the "burn building," McKinley said. "We are taking the core knowledge of CERT and applying it specifically to broadcast operations," he added.
PBS is half way through the month-long course. McKinley's team will graduate on June 16.