Going to Gettysburg

One of the great enjoyments I get from teaching is the opportunity to meet new people and create new friendships. Typically, when we have our classes here on campus at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland we will have about 50 students in class. The diversity of the class is always interesting, and when I say diversity I’m referring to the geographic areas students come from, their career backgrounds, as well as their cultural differences.

We’ve had the pleasure of teaching classes with students from just about every state in the United States including Hawaii, rural communities as well as metropolitan, tribal, and deaf and hard of hearing. With all that diversity I didn’t think I’d ever be surprised by who might attend one of our classes, but that changed on this trip.

Meet Joe Farago

We generally try to meet and greet our students as they arrive to class on the first day. Unfortunately, we had two students already in their seats as we arrived to our classroom. Much to my surprise, when I walked up to Joe and he introduced himself to me, I was pleasantly surprised he is a fellow Michigander. He shared with me that he has a background in the fire service and is living a great life with summers spent in Michigan and winters in Florida. It wasn’t until later the next day before I learned a tad more about my new friend Joe.

The next day, one of our students came up to me and my co-instructor and said “Do you know who he is?” and proceeded to show as an infomercial on You Tube. It turns out Joe has quite an acting background. Along with infomercials, Joe has had parts on the old “Seinfeld” television series as well as in the movie “Terminator”

Joe was a genuinely nice guy who was great to have in class. I don’t know if our paths will ever cross again, but I feel fortunate to have met him.

Gettysburg

Today we had a day off from teaching as we are between classes. With my co-instructors Joe and Wilson, we took the day and went to Gettysburg to visit the Civil War battlefields. It was a picture perfect day to be out sightseeing. Sunny and warm, and not a lot of people.

Gettysburg is only a short 20-mile trip from Emmitsburg, so it’s not far. Once we arrived I saw two sides to our national treasure. On one side it reminded me of tourist places much like Branson, MO, Sault Ste. Marie, MI, or Niagara Falls. Lots of tee-shirt shops and fudge shops. One of the unique offerings here are the ghost tours that are offered at night. No – we didn’t go on a ghost tour!

On the other side is the vast countryside filled with monuments and markers recognizing who fought in the Civil War and where they fought. Reading about the Civil War in school certainly doesn’t prepare one for how large the battlefield really was once you see it. It was truly amazing and humbling.

I’m including a few pictures to share.

I hope you come back in the next couple of days because I’ll have more to share with you. Until then, best wishes!

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Hello again from the National Emergency Training Center

This week I’m back at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, MD. If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you’ll know that this is “home base” for National Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Even though this isn’t my “first rodeo” at the NETC, I still find it an honor whenever I get the opportunity to teach here. There’s so much history in this region of the United States as well as on the campus that houses the NETC. Throughout the week, I hope to share a few of the stories and sites that make this such a special place to come to.

The campus

The NETC is home to both the National Fire Academy (NFA) and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI). The 107-acre campus was the original site of Saint Joseph’s Academy, a Catholic school for girls from 1809 until 1973. It was purchased by the U.S. Government in 1979 for use as the NETC.

The National Fire Academy (NFA) is one of two schools in the United States operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the NETC. Operated and governed by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the NFA is the country’s pre-eminent federal fire training and education institution. The original purpose of the NFA as detailed in a 1973 report to Congress was to “function as the core of the Nation’s efforts in fire service education—feeding out model programs, curricula, and information.

The NFA shares its campus with the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) operated by the Directorate of Preparedness branch of FEMA.

To support the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA’s goals by improving the competencies of the U.S. officials in Emergency Management at all levels of government to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the potential effects of all types of disasters and emergencies on the American people.

EMI is the emergency management community’s flagship training institution, and provides training to Federal, State, local, tribal, volunteer, public, and private sector officials to strengthen emergency management core competencies for professional, career-long training.

EMI trains more than 2 million students annually. Training delivery includes residential onsite training; offsite delivery in partnership with emergency management training organizations, colleges, universities; and technology-based mediums to conduct individual training courses for emergency management personnel across the Nation.

National Fallen Firefighters Memorial

The National Fallen Firefighter Memorial on the NETC campus

The National Fallen Firefighter Memorial on the NETC campus

On campus, there are several memorials including the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The United States Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to lead a nationwide effort to remember America’s fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the tax-exempt, nonprofit Foundation has developed and expanded programs to honor our fallen fire heroes and assist their families and coworkers.

A grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance supports programs for survivors of fallen firefighters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency partners with the Foundation to sponsor many of the National Memorial Weekend activities.

Each October, the Foundation sponsors the official national tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous year. Thousands attend the weekend activities held at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The weekend features special programs for survivors and coworkers along with moving public ceremonies.

…. so, come on back tomorrow and I’ll share additional stories about the CERT Train-the-Trainer class we are teaching as well as other interesting sites on and around the campus.

Aloha and Mahalo from Volcano Hawaii

Well, it’s hard to believe but I’m back in St. Louis as we wrapped up a great week of training in Volcano, Hawaii. The trip home was long to say the least.

A little bit of sightseeing

Picking up where I last left off, last Thursday afternoon we finished class a little earlier than planned and so Wilson and I hopped in the car and did a little sightseeing. We drove over to see the Thurston Lava Tubes which is a 500-year old lava cave located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Lava caves like this are formed when a river of lava gradually builds solid walls and a ceiling. When the lava flow stops and the last of it passes downhill, a cave is formed. These caves can be a few feet high and only yards long, or they can stretch for miles with high ceilings. After walking through the cave and the surrounding rain forest, we drove down to see where the lava flows went into the ocean. Along the way we passed several lave fields that dated back to the early 1970’s. Finally, when we reached the ocean and the blue water of the Pacific was beautiful.

Friday was our final day in class. For me personally, it started off with a wonderful six-mile run along Crater Rim Road. As I ran past the Volcano Observatory and then the open field with the steam vents I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever get the opportunity to return to this place and see more of God’s wonders. I sure hope so.

Polynesian culture

We started class off with another unique opportunity. As I mentioned in previous blogs this week, our class was very diverse. Not only did we have attendees from the Hawaiian Islands, but also from Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. One of the gentlemen from Samoa was actually with us two years ago when we were first in Honolulu Hawaii. In talking with him about the Samoan culture, we agreed there are many similarities with the Native American culture. I explained that in the Native American classes we’ve taught, we usually have someone from their tribe open the class with a prayer in their native language. Along those lines, he shared with me that Samoan tradition is similar and he agreed to open our last day of class with a morning prayer in his native Samoan language. What a great way to start our last day of class.

Another cultural item we learned about was that in the various Polynesian cultures, it’s customary to give your guests a gift. After our morning prayer and before we actually started class, Wilson and I were both presented with blue conference bags with the logo of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense. Inside were homeland security/emergency management related gifts that students from each of the regional areas brought with them to give to us. What a surprise! I’ll proudly display these in my home.

This trip will go down as one of those life experiences I won’t ever forget. My good friend and teaching buddy Wilson and I made many new friends during this trip, and were able to see “up close and personal” one of the greatest natural disaster risks we have – a live volcano.

Well, let me close by sharing some final pictures from our trip.  I hope you enjoy them.

“Mahalo” to all of you who read my blogs during the trip and I hope you’ll come back starting July 28th for a new adventure.

Training in Hawaii Continues

 

Well, the past four days have been spectacular here in Volcano, Hawaii.

From a training perspective, we ended our CERT Train-the-Trainer class yesterday. Wilson and I shot a short video of our class that we look forward to sharing with our upcoming class at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (FEMA EMI) when we are back on campus at the end of July.  As I mentioned in a past blog this week, our class is very diverse. Most of our class has stayed with us as we began our CERT Program Manager class earlier today.

Hawaiian Hospitality

Similar to the infamous Thursday night BBQ’s we have at the FEMA National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland, a few of our students took it upon themselves to put together a class BBQ for our entire class. What a warm and friendly networking opportunity everyone enjoyed. One of the highlights of this trip will be the friendships we’ve created. The food that was prepared last night was amazing. The menu included great tasting beef steak rubbed with course Hawaiian salt, Char Siu pork, a Portuguese sausage, smoked sausage, and poke which is a raw salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. There were three kinds of Poke – Ahi poke which is made with yellowfin tuna, a spicy King crab poke, and another that wasn’t spicy. Both the food and the friendship were outstanding.

My Crater Rim morning

This morning stated out at 5:30 a.m. with a morning hike on the Crater Rim Trail up to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. While it may not have started out as what some might call a “bucket list” opportunity, it sure turned into one of those moments in life I’ll always remember. The weather was the same as it’s been since we got here …. sunny, cool, and windy – trade winds are blowing across Hawaii, and the sun was so bright!

While I started out on a trail that meandered through fields and vegetation, I ended up right smack dab on the ridge (edge) of the crater looking down. What an awesome view! As I went further along the trail, the elevation continued to increase. The trail ended at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. From there, I ended up having a short two-mile run back to the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC). I’m including some pictures from my morning walk.

Lunchtime presentation – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm )

At lunch yesterday we were treated to another special guest speaker. Talmadge Magno is the Chief Ranger of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. His presentation to our class addressed “Emergency Operations” at the park and specifically addressed his unit which is Visitor and Resource Protection. I was surprised to learn just how broad a reach his unit has, including:

  • Special events
  • Wildland fires (including structural fires)
  • Pacific Area Communications Center (ie dispatch)
  • Law Enforcement
  • Aviation
  • Technical Rescue – yes, people need to be rescued when they go places they shouldn’t!

So, tomorrow is our last day. It’s been a terrific experience and I look forward with sharing the remainder of our trip with you soon. Remember to check back.

A beautiful morning for a run.

A beautiful morning for a run.

IMG_1028

This is probably my favorite picture.  Smoke from the crater and this lone tree.

This is probably my favorite picture. Smoke from the crater and this lone tree.

I thought this Ohi'a Lehua was really pretty

I thought this Ohi’a Lehua was really pretty

What a view!

What a view!

The beginning of the Crater Rim Trail

The beginning of the Crater Rim Trail

Class networking BBQ

Class networking BBQ

Day Two CERT Training in Hawaii and Volcanos

In my blog yesterday, I mentioned we are at the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park and camp are located at a elevation of 4,000 feet above sea level. I tell you this because the weather here is so different that what you might expect for a tropical area. The last couple of nights the temperature dipped down to the mid to upper 40’s (F; 7+ C) and during the day the temperatures have been in the low 70’s (F; 21+ C). Our host while we are here told us we are on the one Hawaiian island where they actually get snow in the higher mountain elevations! Snow in Hawaii? Not the Hawaii you would expect.

Running by volcanic steam vents

This morning I got up and went out for my morning run. It was spectacular. The sun was just starting to rise and as I started out from the camp I headed east on the Crater Rim Drive toward the park’s main gate. About a mile into my run I came across a large field that has several steam vents. Here rainwater sinks through the ground and is warmed by rocks which carry heat from the lava below. Hot water then rises through fissures to condense in the chilled air. It was really something to see.

Our class

Day Two of our CERT Train the Trainer class went really well today. While most of our time was spent review the core Basic CERT material, our primary student activity was their first “teach back”. This exercise allows students to stand before their classmates as an instructor and apply the training (skills) they’ve learned so far and actually conducted a very small section of material in our class. Past experience has validated that students really enjoy and benefit from the experience. And what’s more, not only do our students learn, but so do we as instructors.

Today one of our students demonstrated a wonderful way to help determine if you have an adequately sized fire extinguisher to put out a fire. He referred to this as his “Yes, No, Maybe” check. Basically it’s a way to size a fire extinguisher against the burning item. If the extinguisher is as big or bigger than the item burning, then yes, you probably have a large enough extinguisher to put out the fire. If the extinguisher is smaller than the burning object, then No you don’t. And of course, there’s always Maybe’s in life.

Lunchtime presentation – Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (NVO; www.hvo.wr.usgs.gov/ )

One of the key motivators for us to come to Hawaii to teach was the fact that we were going to be at the Hawaiian Volcano Park and we’d get an up close and personal presentation and tour of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Dr. Jim Kauahikaua, joined our class today and provided a terrific overview (and slide show) of Hawaii’s volcanos as well as the island’s earthquakes. Jim is the Scientist-In-Charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Later this evening, Jim met us at the Observatory and provided us with a “behind the scenes” tour of the Observatory.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up our CERT Train-the-Trainer class. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to see what else we are getting in to in the wonderful and interesting location. Until then, I hope you enjoy these pictures that I took today.

We're here!  The sign at the entry of the Observatory

We’re here! The sign at the entry of the Observatory

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Looking out on to the crater

Looking out on to the crater

The crater

The crater

Inside the Observatory

Inside the Observatory

A view looking into the crater

A view looking into the crater

In image looking down into the creater looking at the lava flow.

In image looking down into the creater looking at the lava flow.

That's Dr. Jim Kauahikaua, Scientist-in-Charge at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

That’s Dr. Jim Kauahikaua, Scientist-in-Charge at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

An even better picture at night

An even better picture at night

A nice nighttime glow picture of the crater

A nice nighttime glow picture of the crater

Aloha from Hawai’i

Aloha from Hawai’i

Looking at my last blog, it’s been a while since I last wrote about anything. I guess I just haven’t had much to say? What? Well, I thought I’d jump back into blogging and take some time and share with you some of my experiences that take place this week while I’m “on assignment” in the Hawaii National Park in Volcano, HI.

I’m here with my good friend and co-instructor “Wilson”. Wilson and I have taught with each other many times over the years and were originally invited to teach CERT Train-the-Trainer and Program Manager classes in Honolulu, Hawaii two years ago. I guess we did a pretty good job because we were invited back!

Getting here

Wow, the trip here was long. I started my day at 3:00A on Sunday morning (St. Louis time) and when all travel was done, I was finally in my room ready for bed at 10:30P Sunday night …. Hawaii time. It was a long day. I travel from St. Louis, to Las Vegas, to San Francisco, to Honolulu, to Hilo. Once we landed, we still had a 45 minute drive to where we are staying. Thank you Southwest, United, and Hawaiian Airlines.

Kilauea Military Camp (KMC; www.kilaueamilitarycamp.com/ )

One of my unique motivators to come here was that our class is being conducted at the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC). While I’ll write more about the camp later this week, let me tell you KMC is considered one of the military’s finest vacation gems. It’s located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and sits amidst spectacular scenery, natural wonders, and cultural treasures including the marvels of the active Kilauea Volcano. The camp is open to all active and retired military, members of the Reserve and National Guard, active and retired Department of Defense civilian employees including Coast Guard Civilians, dependents and sponsored guests. What a GREAT facility!

A great diverse class

This week we have 32 attendees in our class. Most are from the Hawaiian Islands. A few are here from Guam, others are here from American Samoa and some have come as far away as Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Talking about a long trip!

Many of our attendees are first responders representing law enforcement, the fire service, or emergency management. We have four members of Team Rubicon (www.teamrubiconusa.org/ ) which is an organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. We also have, several attendees representing education.

Lunchtime presentation – NOAA/NWS

Each day this week, attendees will be treated to daily presentations from local industry experts. Today, we welcomed Mr. Kevin Kodama. Kevin is the Senior Service Hydrologist with the Weather Forecast Office in Honolulu, HI. Kevin gave a terrific presentation about “Tropical Cyclones – Impacts & CPHC Products”.

OK, well that’s it for today.  I think it’s a good start for a first day day back.  Check back tomorrow and I’ll have more to share with you from the KMC and Volcano, HI.

Mahalo

Good bye Lincoln Nebraska

Well it’s hard to believe that our week in Lincoln has come to an end so fast, but here it is.  Today we completed our CERT Program Manager class and now I’m heading for home.

During our short five day stay here we have met some terrific, dedicated and committed people from around the “Corn Husker” state.  I’m convinced that with the training they have completed this week, they have the knowledge and skills (ability) to significantly improve the overall readiness (preparedness) of the communities they live in.  And since most of the folks we worked with this week completed both the CERT Train-the-Trainer and the CERT Program Manager class, I would hope that as they roll out their CERT programs (either new or improved), they will look to become self-sustaining rather than be dependent upon federal funding.  As I wrote in a previous blog, I don’t feel as though the federal funding that many programs across the country receive was intended to be sustaining funds.  Rather, they should have simply been used for one-time program development.  Then, once the program is developed, up and running, it should be the local program’s, or community’s, responsibility to find ways to provide their ongoing funding (self-sustainment).

As I shared with both classes this week, CERT is another program, like the old FEMA “Project Impact” from the 1990’s, where communities became too reliant on federal funding to help improve the resiliency of the community and didn’t seek out opportunities to be self-sustaining.  In the long run, Project Impact went away as federal funding went away.  I hope that CERT doesn’t suffer the same demise, but with the constant decline in federal money allocated for CERT, I think the future doesn’t look good.  With that said, all bets are off when the next big disaster occurs, especially if it is a homeland security incident.  Only then will we see the federal funding spigot turned back on.

Thank you Annette

One of students in our classes this week was a lady by the name of Annette who calls Lincoln, Nebraska home but also lives part time in Florida.  Annette has a military background and now enjoys giving back to her community – both in Lincoln and in Florida.  It was a pleasure to have Annette in class this week not only because she’s a nice person, but because she actually added a lot to our classroom discussions.

Today, she gave me a copy of a book titled “Blindsided – A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incident’s in the WORKPLACE” by Bruce T. Blythe.  I am looking forward to reading this book and applying it to both the classes I teach as well as with the administration of my business continuity and emergency response and safety practices at my REAL job.

Thanks Annette! 

My fellow instructors

Working with me this week was Joe Sciandra and Alan Scott.  I’ve worked with both gentlemen before and have enjoyed working with them again this week.  Sharing their experience and perspective in class the way they did really made the class much more enjoyable for our students.

Well, it’s time to board the flight home.  While I’ve loved being back out teaching with my good friend Wilson Lee in Cleveland two weeks ago, and with Joe and Alan this past week, I’m really looking forward to getting back home and back to my real job.  There’s a lot waiting for me when I get back, which translates into lots of opportunity for success.

I hope that you’ve found my blogs over the past couple of weeks interesting … and maybe even enjoyable?  I hope to return to my former regular schedule which will be on the 1st and 15th of each month.  If there’s something you’d like me to write about, feel free to make a suggestion by using the Comment link.

So until July 15th … stay safe and be prepared.

Becoming a CERT Program Manager, and other Lincoln stuff

Yesterday we wrapped up our CERT Train-the-Trainer class and today we started our CERT Program Manager class.

For those not familiar with the CERT Program Manager course, it prepares participants to establish and sustain an active local CERT program back in their community.  During the two-day class we incorporate both lecture and practical exercises addressing the core components of a local CERT program.  At the end of each unit, participants document their thoughts and ideas on effective practices in a workbook for:

  • Developing local CERT program goals and a related strategic plan
  • Promoting local CERT program
  • Orienting, managing, and retaining CERT members
  • Recruiting, funding, managing, and retaining CERT trainers
  • Acquiring and managing program resources
  • Delivering and managing effective training and exercises
  • Developing policies and procedures for operating a local CERT program
  • Evaluating and sustaining the program

When participants complete the class, they can then use their workbook to move from Point A to Point B in starting or improving their CERT Program.  At the beginning of these classes I tell participants that being a CERT Program Manager is quite similar to running a small business.  And after having seen many CERT programs start, grow, and then crash and fade away, I encourage students to invest the needed time and effort to fully research and develop these administrative processes in an effort to better ensure long-term success, rather than simply jumping in and hoping for the best.

Revisiting the State Capital

On an earlier break in the action today, I walked over to see some more of the State capital.  Today, I chose to enter the Capital from the west entrance as I had been told by one of our students that there was a great statue of Abraham Lincoln there.  While as a kid growing up, I enjoyed learning about Lincoln in school, it wasn’t until I read “Lincoln on Leadership” by Donald Phillips that I became a bigger fan.  Phillips’ book is a must read for anyone interested in leadership and management.

The statue is located on the West Mall (known as the Lincoln Mall).  The statue was created by Chester French who also created the monumental statue of a seated Lincoln in Washington D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial.

I also had the opportunity to go up to the 14th floor of the Capital and venture outside on a very windy ledge to snap of few pictures of the Lincoln horizon.  It was quite a sight, and I’ve included a few pictures for your enjoyment.

Another really neat thing I found out about at the Nebraska State capital is that there’s a Peregrine falcon nest on the 18th floor of the building.

Lastly, in an earlier post I mentioned that on top of the Capital is a bronze statue of the “Sower” created by Lee Lawrie”.  The Sower faces northwest (most of Nebraska is north and west of Lincoln).  While it may not big at first from the ground, he is 19 feet tall, perched atop a 13 foot-tall base, on top of the dome, which is 400 feet above the ground. He can be seen for nearly 20 miles.

He stands barefoot and without hat, sowing seeds in the most primitive manner. He is symbolic of the state of Nebraska as a major agricultural state. He is not merely sowing seeds of grain, but something much greater. He is the symbol of sowing the seeds of agriculture, life, hope and prosperity.

150 year Celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg

And speaking of Lincoln, both the city and the President, I’m reminded that from June 28 through July 7, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania they are celebrating the 150-year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War and is often described as the war’s turning point.  Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s invasion of the North.

So you might be thinking, “Tim, what’s the tie back to Lincoln, Nebraska and CERT, to the Battle of Gettysburg?”  Well, that’s a great question, and here’s the hook.  FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is located about 15 miles away from Gettysburg, PA.  Students that come to EMI to attend classes, often take time to drive over and visit the battlefield grounds.  It’s that simple.

Here’s some travel pics for you to look at

Welcome to our CERT Program Manager class.  Hey, who is that hansome instructor?

Welcome to our CERT Program Manager class. Hey, who is that hansome instructor?

The Nebraska State Capital

The Nebraska State Capital

The Lincoln statue

The Lincoln statue

A great view from the 14th floor...

A great view from the 14th floor…

... and another view ...

… and another view …

and another.

and another.

Not sure which state building this is, but I thought the statuary was interesting.

Not sure which state building this is, but I thought the statuary was interesting.

 

Hey, I can do this in Lincoln …..

Today was Day Two for our CERT Train-the-Trainer class, and everyone came back!  As an Instructor, it’s a great day when all of your students come back.

The importance of feedback

Yesterday, we discussed the importance of feedback.  Students need feedback to know how they are doing in class.  Instructors also need feedback to know how they are doing in class.  As a guy that views the glass as half-full vs half-empty, I’m of the belief it’s beneficial to have daily feedback from our students so that we can make “mid-course corrections” to improve and thereby deliver value through knowledge and experiences.  We shared with the class a fun exercise that we generally conduct at the end of the day, but it proved to be an equally great starter exercise first thing in the morning.  The purpose of the exercise is to obtain instant feedback from everyone in class, it’s that simple.

All you need to conduct the exercise is a soft ball that can be gently tossed between students.  We find the soft “koosh” balls work well.  For those not familiar with what a koosh ball is, I encourage you to watch Season 6, Episode 8 of the television program “King of Queens” that starred Kevin James and Leah Remini.  In this very funny episode, Doug lost the koosh ball Deacon got from his son and tries to get it back (“who-who”).

To conduct the exercise, we have everyone get up and form a circle with everyone facing the center of the circle.  One person has the koosh ball and then, they GENTLY (operative word) toss the ball to someone else in the circle.  That person catches the ball and again shares with the group one item that addresses what they liked about the class, or what they don’t like about the class, or what one thing they’ve learned that was new.  This process continues until everyone has had the chance to provide their feedback.

The exercise generally can be completed in about 15-20 minutes for a class of about 20 students.  For instructors, we get meaningful feedback in a relatively short time.  For students, the exercise provides the opportunity to get involved in their own learning and perhaps make things better for all.

Student “teach backs”

A key part of any successful train-the-trainer class is practice.  Future CERT instructors need to practice teaching the skills in the CERT Basic Training course, and they need to practice incorporating the information they are learning in the CERT Basic Train-the-Trainer course.  They also need to practice giving feedback

The process for the teach-back includes both preparation and presentation.

  1. Students pair up and select a block of instruction pre-selected from the CERT Basic curriculum.
  2. Students are given time to develop their presentation.  Paired “instructors” are expected to be active participants in their teach-back.  They are allotted 10 minutes to be equally shared.
  3. While each pair of “instructors” is delivering their teach back, the other students fulfill the role of the “audience” in the class.
  4. After each presentation, the “audience” will complete a feedback checklist.  The audience will also give “instructors” feedback orally.

Teach-backs always prove to be a very well-received exercise in this course.  While it’s true some are nervous when we first get started, when everything is said and done, everyone enjoys the opportunity to practice and improve!

The Nebraska State Capital

I want to close out this blog with sharing a quick stroll I took over to the State Capital Building.

Nebraska has to have one of the most unique Capitals I’ve seen.  While most Capitals are typically short with a domed rotunda, Nebraska has a rather tall Capital standing at 400 feet tall.  This is actually the third Capital building that’s been in the state.  It was completed in 1932 at a cost of $9.8 million and was paid in full – no debt!   Positioned on top of the Capital is a 19-feet tall, nine ton, statue created by Lee Lawrie called “the Sower”.

Inside the Capital, Nebraska’s one-house Legislature, the “Unicameral” meets.  In government, unicameralism is the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber.

I think tomorrow I’m going to head back to the Capital and see more and learn more about the state.  Until then, here’s some pictures from today …

the Capital from a couple of blocks away.  Notice the "Sower" on top?

the Capital from a couple of blocks away. Notice the “Sower” on top?

Looking up from the Capital steps

Looking up from the Capital steps

Is this the front door or side door?

Is this the front door or side door?

A gorgous hallway inside the Capital

A gorgous hallway inside the Capital

Looking up at the Rotunda

Looking up at the Rotunda

The chamber where Nebraska's Unicameral meets

The chamber where Nebraska’s Unicameral meets

Getting Started in Lincoln, Nebraska

Sunny, clear, a bit humid, and highs in the low 90’s.  We are having great weather in Lincoln, Nebraska.  You just can’t feel bad on a day like today.

We’re starting our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer class.  We have 18 students in class for the next three days from across the State of Nebraska.  These dedicated 18 come from various walks of life including public safety, education, health and medical, as well as ordinary citizens that are looking to help their communities be better prepared.  There are two somewhat unique characteristics of this class.  Several students represent the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and several others represent education, and more specifically community college and university.  While having different backgrounds, they come with a common goal – to learn how to be a more effective instructor of the CERT Basic training sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This is my first trip to Nebraska, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy the blessing I’ve been given as a contracted instructor of the CERT program.  I’ve been able to travel around and see this great country of ours and meet the wonderful people that make up our communities.  CERT volunteers specifically have proven themselves to be a very committed group of people that want to give back to the community.

Nebraska has 11 registered Citizen Corps Councils spread across the state. If you aren’t familiar with Citizen Corps, the mission of Citizen Corps is to locally have a process and organizational structure in place to harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service.  Counsels can positively impact to a community’s ability to be safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds.  There are five federally sponsored partner programs under the Citizen Corps umbrella including Fire Corps, USAonWatch, Medical reserve Corps (MRC), Volunteers in Police (VIPS), Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and of course CERT.  Like other states in the country, many of the Nebraska CERT teams are very active and functional.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are teams that are either just starting or are reengineering themselves.

The core concept of CERT is preparing individuals to take care of themselves and families when a disaster occurs.    The range of disasters is great across the United States.  In Nebraska, according to the Nebraska’s Risk Assessment Survey results ( http://www.nema.ne.gov/pdf/hazmitplan.pdf ), the state has identified the following risks:

High Risk

  • Thunderstorm
  • Severe Winter Storm
  • Tornado
  • Terrorism

Medium Risk

  • Drought
  • Agricultural
  • Flooding
  • Wildfire
  • Chemical

Low Risk

  • Earthquake

While CERT voluteers may not ever be directly involved in response activities to any of these risks, they certainly can help themselves and their families (and their neighbors) become better prepared for most, if not all of them.  And by being better prepared that translates into less demand on our public safety system.

Tower Building Exercise

One of the “hands-on” exercises we did in class this morning was the infamous “Tower Building” exercise.  The purpose of the exercise is to introduce the participants to each other and illustrate the types of skills and abilities that CERTs require.

I really like this exercise and have used it (and variations of it) in other training classes I’ve conducted.  I want to share the instructions with you in case you want to use it in training you might conduct (i.e. Leadership, Project Management, etc.).

Here’s a list of the items needed to conduct the exercise:

  • Scissors (1 for every 5 participants)
  • Tape (1 roll for every 5 participants)
  • Two pieces of cardboard, approximately 8 by 10 inches  (1 set for every 5 participants)
  • Forty pieces of construction paper, 8.5 by 11 inches (1 set for every 5 participants)

And here’s how we make the magic happen:

  1. Assign the participants to groups of five
  2. Distribute the materials to each group
  3. Tell the groups that they will spend the next 10 minutes planning and designing a freestanding tower that stands at least 5 feet tall from the bottom of the structure to the top.  Explain that you will tell the groups when to begin and that they will have 5 minutes from that point to construct the tower.  Emphasize that the first 5 minutes is for planning only.
  4. Tell the groups when to begin their work and when to end.

At the end of the allotted time, facilitate a group discussion of what the groups have learned through the exercise.  Keep in mind that the exercise is not intended to be just an “ice-breaker.”  The exercise also demonstrates how unfamiliar people can work on an unfamiliar problem under unfamiliar conditions and in a time-compressed environment to reach a common goal.  These are the conditions under which CERTs will need to work to reach desired outcomes.

Well, at the close of the day we ended up where we planned and we seemed to have shared a lot of knowledge.  Tomorrow, we’ll continue to work on our instructional skills including our first of two student teach-backs.  We’ll also continue to review the material in the basic CERT class.  I hope you’ll come back and check-in with us.

I’ll leave you with a couple of class pictures.

Our room setup just before the start of class.

Our room setup just before the start of class.

Nebraska State Coordinator Citizen Corps/Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator welcomes the class to Day 1. Mr. Ryan Lowry

Mr. Ryan Lowry, Nebraska State Citizen Corps/Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator welcomes the class to Day 1.

fellow instructor "Joe" leading a unit of instruction.

fellow instructor “Joe” leading a unit of instruction.

One group building their tower.  Great teamwork!

One group building their tower. Great teamwork!

A little debriefing about the Tower building.

A little debriefing about the Tower building.