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Plan to Participate in the March 17 Statewide Tornado Drill

Posted at 9:45 a.m.

2015 Tornado Drill

Tornadoes can happen anywhere and at any time of year, making preparedness for these potentially deadly storms even more important. For example, Fairfax County had a couple of tornado watches and tornado warnings in 2014.

To be better prepared, businesses and organizations, schools and colleges, and families and individuals can practice taking cover from tornadoes by participating in the annual Statewide Tornado Drill Tuesday, March 17, at 9:45 a.m.

Registration for the tornado drill is not necessary, but you can learn more and show your support by signing up at

The annual drill is a joint effort of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service (NWS).

To start the tornado drill at 9:45 a.m. on March 17, the NWS will send a test tornado warning that will trigger a tone alert and broadcast message on NOAA Weather Radio. The message will be picked up by TV and radio broadcasts, simulating what listeners will hear during an actual tornado warning.

“Receiving a tornado warning as quickly as possible can make the difference between life and death,” said Bill Sammler, NWS warning coordination meteorologist. “One of the fastest ways for people to get a tornado warning is by NOAA Weather Radio, which provides warning information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. However, cellphone apps such as Ready Virginia are also available that quickly provide critical warning information at little or no cost. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) also provide tornado and flash flood warnings via text message to any compatible cell within the warning area, even if you are visiting or just traveling through an affected area.”

For help in conducting a tornado drill and to register for next week’s statewide drill, go to

Volunteers Needed for CERT Exercise

Posted at 11:30 a.m.

Fairfax County’s CERT – the Community Emergency Response Team – is seeking victim actors who can help trainees practice their skills.

CERT-logoThe exercise is on Saturday, Nov. 15, from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Lorton training site, located at the former Lorton Juvenile Detention Center in Lorton. The exercise is perfect for drama classes, students needing community service hours, retired persons, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and anyone interested in disasters.

Victim actors must:

  • Be 16 years of age or older.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes (no flip-flops, Crocs, sandals, etc.).
  • Dress in clothes appropriate for the weather and that you don’t mind messing up with fake blood, etc.
  • Sign a waiver.

CERT will provide simulated wound makeup and give you symptoms to role-play during the exercise. And when the exercise is over, they’ll also feed you lunch.

To volunteer for the Nov. 15 exercise, email

Seminar and Exercise Program to Address Community Disaster Preparedness

Posted at 2 p.m.

Volunteer Fairfax and Faith Communities in Action held a Community Collaboration for Disaster Resiliency Summit earlier this year. Organizations such as faith and community-based organizations, disaster volunteer groups, residential management groups, civic associations and representatives from the private, public and nonprofit sectors involved with disaster recovery attended.

We all know that in times of disaster, we can’t recover without community support. So in an effort to continue the conversation started earlier this year with the summit, Volunteer Fairfax received funding to conduct a pilot program in the Mason, Braddock and Sully Districts.

As part of this pilot, an educational seminar and practice exercise will be held in each of these districts as an opportunity for local community partners to meet and better understand how we can best work together in response to a disaster.

Mason District Seminar

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 29
Time: 5-8 p.m.
Location:  Annandale United Methodist Church, 6935 Columbia Pike, Annandale

Mason District Exercise

Date: Wednesday, Dec. 3
Time: 5-8 p.m.
Location: Heritage Center, conference rooms C & D, 7611 Little River Turnpike, Annandale

Leaders and decision-makers at area community-based organizations, local nonprofits, faith-based groups, homeowners associations, PTAs and first responders should attend. There is no cost to attend and dinner is even included. If your organization serves this region, we welcome you to join the conversation and attend.

If you need more information — or if your organization serves the Braddock or Sully Districts — contact Tracy Friend with Volunteer Fairfax for more details.


Get Ready to ShakeOut!

Posted at 8:30 a.m.

Get ready… it’s almost time!

The Great Southeast ShakeOut earthquake drill begins today at 10:16 a.m. and you can participate where ever you might be. The earthquake drill is a great time to practice the actions you should take during a real earthquake — drop, cover and hold on:

  • DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you).
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table.
  • HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

Earthquakes happen without warning, and the shaking may be so severe that you cannot run or crawl. So drop, cover and hold one immediately.

Get ready to practice at 10:16 a.m. and take part in the Great Southeast ShakeOut. Learn more at or

County to Conduct an Emergency Exercise on Thursday, June 26

Posted at 2 p.m.

County emergency management, public works, public safety, human services, public information officers and related county agencies — along with the American Red Cross — will participate in an emergency exercise tomorrow, Thursday, June 26.

The exercise, called VERTEX 2014, is based around a weather scenario in which a category three hurricane makes landfall in Virginia, causing severe damage throughout the county requiring the opening of a shelter for displaced residents.

The exercise will be held in three locations:

You should not be alarmed if you see numerous public safety vehicles and county staff at either the library or the high school. This is only an exercise.

Public safety and public works staff will be exercising incident command principles including unified command and will be based in the library parking lot (weather permitting). This exercise will enhance the multiagency planning and response to the threats that face our community during a severe weather event.

Human services staff and volunteers, along with the American Red Cross, will be setting up a shelter at the high school to test the county’s shelter plan.

The exercise will be coordinated from the EOC and supported by additional county staff exercising from that location.

We’re preparing for the next emergency in our community. Are you ready? Take a look at these resources to get better prepared for the next emergency.


Northern Virginia Agencies Conduct “HOV Reversal Exercise” at 11 a.m.

Posted 11 a.m.

Local, state and federal law enforcement, along with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia Department of Transportation, will conduct a multi-jurisdictional “HOV Reversal Exercise.” The exercise will begin promptly at 11 a.m. and should not affect routine traffic flow within the Northern Virginia region.

Beginning at 11 a.m., those traveling along Interstates 95, 395, 495, and 66 can expect to see an increased presence of local, state and federal law enforcement personnel and VDOT Safety Services Patrol personnel at various exit ramps and locations. The exercise requires law enforcement to report to their designated locations to test deployment practices along the interstate system between Northern Virginia and Caroline County, Va. In addition, this operation facilitates the interoperability of communications systems among the participating agencies.

To minimize any impact on traffic, the exercise is timed to correspond with the regular, mid-morning HOV ramp closures. As soon as the first responders have confirmed their location and presence, they will be dismissed from that location.

“This is a ‘no-notice’ event, meaning that the first responders have not been apprised of the exercise in advance,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker. “The purpose of this traffic management exercise is to test and evaluate the preparedness of first responder agencies throughout the National Capital Region. Geography, population and infrastructure make being able to execute a plan of this nature a critical necessity for the safety and protection of everyone living, working and visiting the region in the case of a manmade or natural disaster.”

Participating agencies include Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, City of Alexandria Police, Arlington County Police, District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Fairfax County Police, Metropolitan Police, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Pentagon Force Protection Agency and Prince William County Police.

Don’t Forget to Participate in the Tornado Drill at 9:45 a.m.

Posted at 8:35 a.m.

The Statewide Tornado Drill is this morning at 9:45 a.m. Our emergency management office will send a Community Emergency Alert Network (CEAN) message announcing the drill so you won’t forget to participate. If you are not registered for CEAN alerts, take this opportunity to do so.

What You Should Do During the Drill?

  • You should act as though a tornado warning has been issued for the immediate area or a tornado has been sighted near your home or office building.  Move as quickly as possible to the nearest shelter or other safe place.  Use stairs to reach the lowest level of a building; avoid using elevators.
  • Make sure that any visitors to your office know that this is a drill, not a real event.  Assist any visitors to shelter.
  • In a real tornado emergency, once you reach a safe area, crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down and cover your heads with their hands.  Ensure that everyone in your organization knows this.  You can practice crouching down.

Tornadoes can happen anytime, anywhere with little or no warning. Knowing what to do when seconds count can save lives. How will you respond to a tornado warning?       

Know the Terms:

  • Tornado Watch – Conditions are favorable for a tornado and that tornadoes are possible. 
  • Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar and might be headed your when. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately

Do You Know What to Do if a Tornado Approaches?    

If a tornado is headed your way:

  • Shelter immediately in the nearest substantial building. Go to the building’s basement.
  • If there is no basement in your home or office, move to a small, windowless, interior room such as a closet, bathroom or interior hall on the lowest level of the building. 
  • If you are in a high rise building go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • When shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area (do not get under an overpass or bridge).

For more information or assistance with emergency planning, contact our emergency management office at 571-350-1000, TTY 711.

Register Now for Statewide Tornado Drill March 12

Posted at 11:48 a.m.

It’s one month away! Virginia’s annual Statewide Tornado Drill is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, at 9:45 a.m. The date also will be observed as Tornado Preparedness Day across the state.

The tornado drill is an important statewide safety exercise. In recent years Virginia has been hard hit by multiple tornadoes that have cost lives and left extensive property damage. Some communities continue to recover from devastating tornadoes.

In each of the past two years, some 1.2 million Virginians have registered to participate in the Statewide Tornado Drill. Registration for this year’s drill is now open. To register and to learn more about planning a tornado drill, go to and click through the rotating graphics at the top of the page, or go to

Additional help in planning a tornado drill is available through the county’s Office of Emergency Management at 571-350-1000, TTY 711. The Statewide Tornado Drill is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Ready Virginia and the National Weather Service in cooperation with local emergency management offices.

You may also want to go back and look at a recap article from the county’s three-day tornado exercise held last year, “Tornado Education, Engagement and Exercise.” It includes links to resources to know the difference between a tornado watch and warning, how to recognize the danger signs of a tornado, 10 questions to ask if a tornado strikes Fairfax County, and a daily recap of each day of the exercise that provides some valuable insight into what actions the county will be going through if a major tornado were to strike here.

Virginia Tornado Drill March 12, 2013, 9:45 a.m. Register now to participate

If widespread severe weather threatens on March 12, the drill will be rescheduled for Wednesday, March 13, at 9:45 a.m.

Helicopter Flights Expected in Lorton Tuesday for Capital Shield Exercise

Posted at 1:24 p.m.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, you can expect to see an increase in helicopter traffic in the vicinity of Interstate 95, Exit 161 and the Lorton Training Facility due to Capital Shield 13, a National Capital Region emergency exercise. Helicopter flights are anticipated between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Residents should note that this exercise will simulate the movement and treatment of mock victims to area hospitals. This exercise will not impact your ability to be promptly seen at local hospitals, however, you may see people dressed up to look like they have been severely injured. Residents should not be alarmed. This is a planned exercise to test the region’s capability to respond to a mass casualty scenario.

The emergency exercise is an interagency emergency management exercise conducted throughout the National Capital Region (NCR). The annual exercise brings federal and local agencies together to realistically test interagency operability to an event impacting D.C., Va. and Md. 

More than 50 participating agencies from the Department of Defense, local response agencies and local hospitals will perform mock rescues, triage, treat and transport victims by helicopter and ambulance to area hospitals. The goal of the exercise is to ensure that government agencies at every level are prepared to take coordinated action to protect the public in the event of an actual disaster in the NCR.

Tornado Education, Engagement and Exercise

Snapshot of fake path of fake tornado for county emergency exerciseDuring the last 10 days, we’ve engaged you on this blog, Facebook and Twitter about tornadoes. In an effort to compile most of our posts in one place, here are the key entries we’d ask you to read, discuss and then take necessary preparedness actions so our whole community is better prepared in the event of any incident from tornadoes to floods to terrorism:

Tornado Exercise Recap Day 3

The third and final day of the county’s emergency exercise brought many new issues to the forefront while challenging our community with some of the same issues from the first two days (read about day 1 and day 2).

To recap, a fake EF-4 tornado struck a swath of Fairfax County in Centreville and the Chantilly areas. 63,000+ residents were affected, with more than 50 deaths and nearly 650 injuries.

Damage and debris were a major focus today as county damage assessment teams visited all of the affected properties, debris drop off locations were identified and other related issues were addressed.

Residents will be allowed to return at 8 a.m. Thursday to affected properties and see if they have red, yellow or green placards that indicate if they can reoccupy their home.

Health issues were top of mind as we reinforced that everyone in the community should wash hands frequently and be safe amid damage.

Volunteers were utilized today, but in real world incidents, you must not self-deploy to a site and volunteer. Volunteer Fairfax will coordinate efforts throughout the county, so please keep that in mind. Donations are also centrally managed and organized, so gifts should not be provided to affected areas.

We continued to practice and improve communications using certain tools and with staff in the field. Over the three days, county staff played from the Emergency Operations Center, a Unified Command Post at the Fire and Rescue Academy and various department operations centers.

We used a fake exercise blog that mirrors this real blog to publish more than 70 entries over three days.

We used a fake blog that mirrors this blog to post more than 70 updates; we used a simulated social media system to publish hundreds of messages and replies; we sent test CEAN text/email alerts and we responded to pretend calls from the media. We also hosted a news conference with the “governor.”

In this video, Deputy Fire Chief Keith Johnson describes the work of Unified Command, which simulated managing the various incident scenes from one location:

As you can see after three days of this exercise, tornadoes can severely impact our community and create long-lasting issues. A “whole community” effort is critical to get everyone on their feet as fast as possible.

We invited area journalists to report on this exercise. Here are a few of their reports:

  • Washington Post
  • Patch
  • WTOP, Channel 7 and Channel 9 also visited the EOC today and may have reports online soon

As we end our work on this fake tornado exercise, we feel better prepared to serve you if a major calamity hits us.

But are you prepared, too? (Hint, we need you to be!)

  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • What will you do differently to prepare for a major incident in our community?
  • Are you prepared? Your family? Your place of work? Your place of worship?
  • What more can we do to help inform you?
  • What can we learn from you?

Let us know any thoughts, comments or questions you have in the comments section below.

Tornado Exercise Recap Day 2

County staff in the Emergency Operations Center during a tornado exerciseThe second day of the county’s three-day emergency exercise began at 8 a.m. as the focus shifted to recovery and cleanup from yesterday’s devastating fake tornadoes.

As of this afternoon, the emergency exercise has led to these simulated statistics:

  • 49 deaths
  • 595 injuries
  • $19 million in damage to school and county buildings
  • 100 residential and 44 commercial buildings damaged

As time passes from the actual incident, secondary impacts and issues start to become known and we’re addressing them in day 2 into day 3.

Here are five issues to think about today:

1.)    A damaged pump station started to dump raw sewage into Cub Run last night and residents were advised to stay out of Cub Run, Bull Run and Occoquan. While drinking water always remained safe during this exercise, we requested that people minimize water use for drinking, cooking and bathing.

  • Question to consider: Do you have enough bottled water in your home, workplace or elsewhere to last three days?

2.)    Domestic animals were found wandering after the storm. Animal control practiced responding and setting up proper facilities for lost animals.

  • Question to consider: Are your animals properly tagged, immunized and registered?

3.)    Two more shelters opened today bringing the total to five locations where people can stay.

  • Question to consider: Do you have basic supplies like medicines easily accessible in case you need to stay at a shelter?

4.)    Route 28 remained closed due to the bridge collapse over I-66. I-66 was cleared overnight.

  • Question to consider: Have you determined alternative paths around where you live should a major road become inaccessible for long periods of time? Can you telework? Plan ahead to give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination.

5.)    As the recovery phase kicks into full gear, forms become an important tool for people and businesses to start rebuilding. Insurance information is always a key place to start. Insurance policy documents should contain the information to help you determine if you are eligible for compensation for tornado damage and what is covered.

  • Question to consider:  Do you have appropriate coverage for tornadoes? What about other incidents such as fire, flood and terrorism? Do you know the details of your plans?

GIS staff prepare maps during tornado exerciseThis exercise is testing our government response, but as we emphasized before, any response to a calamity such as this fake F4 tornado will require the whole community to partner together. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, Volunteer Fairfax and others are also playing in this scenario testing their plans in coordination with ours.

But most importantly, we need you to be ready; prepare yourself and your family before a tornado (or any threat) hits and be ready to rebuld if it impacts you or your property.

Families and businesses make up the heart of our community and while we will respond as quickly as possible with the resources we have to offer, we’re asking everyone to “play” for real:

As part of this week’s education efforts, more than 1 million Virginians participated in today’s statewide tornado drill. Many people in the county took part, including the Board of Supervisors at its regularly scheduled meeting this morning. After the alert sounded, Chairman Sharon Bulova said:

“While the county government is participating in this drill, I’d also like to encourage our residents to remember to prepare, not only for tornadoes, but for any hazard. Preparedness is a shared responsibility between the government and its residents.” (Read the chairman’s full statement)

Tornado Exercise Recap Day 1

Emergency Operations Center

Staff from multiple county departments and some partners began participating in an exercise today that will run through Wednesday night.

Fairfax County Government and many key partners began a three-day emergency exercise today focused on fake tornadoes that hit our community.  We’re going to share a few details of the fake tornadoes so you can think about how your life could have been impacted either in the path of the tornadoes or if the paths struck another part of the county.

A quick note about emergency exercises, though. They are written to simulate what could happen and what’s described below is plausible. Our response and that of our community partners then drives how events unfold as the situation continues to develop.

The fake tornadoes struck around 8 a.m. in the western part of Fairfax County near Centreville, Chantilly and Fair Lakes:

  • 63,000+ residents affected by tornado including hundreds of injuries and some fatalities.
  • Numerous properties were impacted by the fake tornadoes and people were trapped. A few schools were also impacted before the school day began. Initial assessment found approximately 70 commercial buildings and approximately 65 single family dwellings throughout Fairfax County collapsed or sustained significant damage. 
  • Route 28 bridge over I-66 collapsed and that intersection was not passable for many hours; one lane is now getting by this afternoon as part of the exercise. Heavy traffic volume and major detours resulted.
  • Route 28 is closed for the duration of the night from Westfields Blvd. to Stone Road for inspections.
  • Water and sewage use was limited south of Dulles Airport and West of the City of Fairfax as the Upper Occoquan Service Authority’s plant in Centreville was affected.
  • Power and gas were out south of Route 50 and west of Route 123.
  • We asked people to stay off the roads for many hours to let first responders do their job.
  • Shelters have been established for people displaced.
  • Parents were required to pick up students from many schools in the western part of the county as school bus service was suspended (school staff remained on scene until every child was picked up). 

Path of today’s fake tornadoes:

Path of Fake Tornadoes During Fairfax County's Emergency Exercise March 2012

As we go into the overnight period and into exercise play on Tuesday, we’ll transition to a recovery phase.

Questions to think about:

  • What would you be thinking about if this happened?
  • How could you be more prepared?
  • What impacts would this have on your daily schedule?
  • How would you communicate with limited power?
  • Are you ready for an incident like this?
  • What do you expect from Fairfax County Government? What do you expect from the whole community as we all respond (nonprofits, business, etc.)?
  • Other questions to think about from our blog post last week.

Leave your comments/questions here on the blog so we can learn from you. We simulated the use of social media and other communications by the public, but we’d love to hear your thoughts here, too.

And don’t forget the statewide tornado drill Tuesday morning at 9:45 a.m.

10 Questions to Ask When Tornadoes Strike Fairfax County

Operation Enduring CollaborationWe continue our conversation with you about tornadoes as we get closer to the county government’s three-day emergency exericse next week. Tornadoes are a real threat. The last tornado to strike Fairfax County happened in Reston on April 27, 2011. According to a National Weather Service analysis:

“The tornado began in a parking lot along Sunset Hills Road where small limbs were snapped from a hardwood tree and a large limb was snapped from a softwood tree. It crossed Sunset Hills Road and entered the Hidden Creek Country Club golf course where it intensified and uprooted or snapped several hardwood and softwood trees. The tornado weakened slightly as it crossed North Shore Drive and Wedge Road where a few trees were snapped or uprooted. A few homes appeared to suffer minor damage from fallen trees. As it crossed Wiehle Avenue, the tornado intensified again snapping or uprooting numerous trees adjacent to Tall Oaks Village Center before weakening rapidly.”

Path of April 2011 tornado in Reston


This tornado was ranked a zero according to the tornado damage scale chart, but if conditions are ripe, more severe twisters can strike our community (as will happen during our exercise next week).

We’re preparing and responding during the Operation Enduring Collaboration exercise, but our response will never be enough for our community to recover. We need the whole community — families, businesses, nonprofits, faith communities and other key groups — to prepare, respond and recover. Important activities you can do to prepare include:

  • Have preparedness kits in your homes, cars and places of work/worship.
  • Establish a communications plan so you can notify people you are OK either through text messages, social media posts, or phone calls to one designated out of town person who can then relay your status.

But even more importantly, have you thought about some of the questions (in no particular order) that a tornado or any hazard could pose:

  1. If you work in D.C. or other points far away from your home and roads are impassable for long periods of time, what arrangements should you think about?
  2. If you have children in daycare or schools, what are their policies for sheltering and holding students?
  3. If you run a small business and you can’t travel to your business or if you do not have power/internet for long periods of time, how will your business operations continue?
  4. If mass transit is affected, how will you get around the area (assuming roads are passable, too)?
  5. If your home or business is damaged, do you have proper insurance and other recovery issues documented (or at least discussed)?
  6. Do you have important digital files backed up off site or in the “cloud” away from your home or business?
  7. Do you know first aid or CPR to help people who may be trapped or injured?
  8. Do you have enough medications on hand in case pharmacies are unable to refill them for a few days?
  9. Do you have plans for your pets?
  10. Are there people in your community such as the elderly or home-bound that you can check on if your situation is OK?

After each day of the exercise next week, we’ll provide a snapshot of what happened in the scenario so you can ask yourself these questions and many others that could be a little more specific and lead to more questions. Talk about these questions with your family, co-workers, faith community members and others so our whole community is ready. 

Tornado Watch and Warning Differences

Operation Enduring Collaboration

Briefings have begun this week for Operation Enduring Collaboration next week. The briefings cover logistics and the "rules" of the three-day exercise. Multiple county departments will be participating as well as other entities such as county school staff, hospitals, American Red Cross, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia Department of Transportation and Volunteer Fairfax.

As county staff is briefed this week on the logistics of our three-day emergency exercise next week, we want to continue our conversation about tornadoes.

We previously described how to recognize tornado danger signs, especially if you do not have access to a source of information such as social media, weather radio or television.

If you do have access to information, the National Weather Service will issue tornado watches and/or warnings. What’s the difference?

Tornado Watch – Conditions are favorable for a tornado and that tornadoes are possible.     

Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar and might be headed your way. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately.   

Here’s a video from the National Weather Service with more details (and to learn how watches and warnings are made):


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