- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

As Orlando officials contend with the aftermath of the nightclub massacre, Fairfax County volunteers are going door-to-door in an effort to help residents prepare for attacks and natural disasters.

The volunteers are surveying neighbors on their emergency plans, which county officials will assess for preparedness reports.

“Surveyors go up to the door, and the residents can participate right there on the doorstep,” said John Silcox, public safety information officer at the Fairfax County Health Department. “Some of the questions would be like, ‘Do you have a plan for how you’d evacuate? Do you have an emergency kit at home? If you have pets, do you know how you’d evacuate them?’”

The 59 volunteers, who have been knocking on doors at thousands of randomly-selected homes since June 4, form the backbone of the process.

“As the Orlando attack proved, people are unaware and tragedy occurs,” said Lisa Makson, a volunteer for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). “This is the nation’s capital and it’s very important to be prepared. Since we live in the D.C. area, we have to have emergency supplies.”

As part of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, CERT volunteers can respond to fires, floods and search-and-rescue calls after undergoing several hours of Federal Emergency Management Agency training.

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Chuck Haberlein, another CERT volunteer, said he hopes for “a better prepared health department. I’m just a citizen; I’m doing this out of the goodness of my heart. As a citizen, I hope that it will help them spend my tax dollars better.”

Armed with a packet of information about the survey, the volunteers go out to retrieve data that could be crucial amid a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

“It’s important because, if the bureaucracy doesn’t know what they’re going to do, they have to guess,” Mr. Haberlein said. “They’ll end up guessing on their own experience, and they might really guess wrong about what the general public knows. This [survey] will really help them plan.”

Ms. Makson said that emergency preparedness benefits everyone, even those who do not take the survey or become informed themselves.

“The more people that are prepared, the better, because then they can go to help their neighbors,” Ms. Makson said. “People are realizing just how unprepared they are, [and] they need to be ready for the worst-case scenario.”

Mr. Haberlein said that “it well behooves everybody to think about what kind of emergencies there could be and how to deal with them. We don’t know what we’re going to hit ‘til we hit it, but we have an idea about what problems there have been in the past.”

Past emergencies have killed some communication networks, and the survey seeks residents’ opinions about how to stay informed in the midst of crises.

“‘What kind of government agencies or news broadcasters would you trust to provide you with information?’” Mr. Haberlein said, sampling questions from the survey. “”Are you enrolled in any kind of emergency texting system where they would send out emergency information on your cellphone?’ They’re trying to get statistics on the degree of emergency preparedness and their consciousness on how to handle emergencies.”

Virginia operates a mobile-alert system, but county officials aim to prepare for a large disaster in which technology might fail.

“This would be big-time emergencies, like a serious weather event or a terrorist event or something that would cause a lot of disruption,” Mr. Haberlein said.

County residents can expect to read survey results as early as the end of the summer.

“A technical report will be published in late summer or early fall 2016 and will be posted on our website,” Mr. Silcox said. “We learned a lot in this process and we plan to use [the survey] in the future.”

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