Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Message From TEEX Director Gary Sera

Seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating the new millennium. Yet, here we are about to enter into its second decade. The world has changed in many ways during this time, and some debate whether it’s for better or for worse. Social networking is here to stay, with today's youth now strongly identifying and connecting through this medium. The term Green now means something more than money—it’s a sustainable way to contribute to your bottom line. Finally, we have an economy that is about as fickle as it can be. It seems to be getting better, but then lingers on like a bad cold that doesn’t want to go away.

What always seems to be a refreshing constant is the spirit of this season. This is the time when friends and family can share peace and love, and where the world seems to slow down. It is a time when we can all actually say, “Let's wait until next year to work on that.” We can all actually take a deep breath as we prepare to soar into the New Year with new hope and renewed energy. Here is wishing you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year.

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TEEX Holiday Safety 2010

For many of us, today is the last official day of work in 2010. The Aggies have already left College Station, and many of us will travel for the holidays. With this in mind, please take a moment to review these holiday travel tips.

 Whether traveling by car or air, rule number one is to allow extra time for the journey. Plan to avoid the heaviest travel times, if at all possible. If driving in wintry conditions, carry a road emergency kit including flares, a blanket, a first aid kit, water and snacks. A small shovel is also handy to have, and kitty litter works well under the wheels to increase traction.

Sometimes we forget how international TEEX has become. My safety note early in December stressed winter driving safety. Our instructors in Abu Dhabi responded, saying they anticipate no cold weather driving problems, but sand storms and camel collisions are at an all time high. So, slow down for reduced visibility and traffic, whether it’s sand or snow, cars or camels.

If you have children under 13, the best place for them is in the back seat of the car. Everyone on board should ride upright, without leaning against the doors or dash. Never allow anyone to ride unrestrained. Defensive driving is the key. And because State Highway 6 truly does run both ways, take your time and stay in your lane.

If traveling by air, children under 40 pounds should be in an FAA-approved child safety seat. Again, give yourselves plenty of time for check-in and security screening. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and bring activities to keep everyone occupied during the flight. Further air-travel tips can be found at TSA’s Holiday Travel Website.

It’s also good to have health insurance information available when traveling, just in case it’s needed.

Christmas also brings some unique and beautiful safety hazards. These include the Christmas tree, indoor and outdoor lighting, and decorations. Don’t place your tree too close to heaters or air vents. The vents can dry out the tree and turn it into fuel. Don’t put it up too early or leave it up too late, and make sure you keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

Inspect your holiday lights for frayed or bare spots in the insulation, and do not overload electrical outlets. Wires should not be warm when you touch them. Don’t leave Christmas lights illuminated and unattended.

This video is a great example of how quickly a dry Christmas Tree can burn.

Decorations should be non-combustible or flame resistant. Never use lighted candles to decorate a tree. And, place all other decorative candles where they won’t be knocked over by people or pets.

Remember to remove wrapping paper, bags, ribbons and bows from the tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened. These items can cause a fire if near an open flame. Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace as this can cause chimney fires.

If there will be small children in the home, avoid decorations that are sharp, breakable or have removable parts because they are a choking hazard. Avoid decorations that resemble candy or food.

Toys should be appropriate for the child’s age, and toys requiring access to an electrical outlet should be avoided for children under age 10. As with the decorations, avoid small toys that could pose a choking hazard, as well as deflated or broken balloons, strings and ribbons.

It’s also important to remember food safety over the holidays. On the never-ending buffet, foods requiring refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Raw foods MUST be washed and fully cooked. Be sure to keep hot foods and liquids away from the edges of counters and tables where they can be easily knocked over by a child or your clumsy uncle. Wash your hands frequently, and if cooking, don’t double dip!

We’re posting and tweeting safety tips as well as other TEEX news on our Facebook & Twitter Pages. You can also find Safety Links on the TEEX Website.

Travel safely, have a great holiday and we’ll see you in 2011.

Charley Todd is the associate agency director for the Texas Engineering Extension Service.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TEEX Wounded Warrior - Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Demonstration

Center for the Intrepid

Recently,  TEEX Public Safety and Security (PS&S) received an interesting call from Wendy Foster, a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Center for the Intrepid. Located at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, the center is a rehabilitation facility for amputees and burn victims of the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.

Wendy has helped scores of our nation’s Wounded Warriors. One of her current clients was interested in pursuing a vocation taught by our PS&S division, but his disability presented some questions.

In 2006, Army Staff Sergeant Tyler Sloan was shot by a sniper in Mosul, Iraq. Damaged nerves in his right foot required its amputation. Sloan, a tall, good-looking young man was getting along well with his prosthesis. He was considering several possible new vocations, including underwater welding and flying, as well as searching for and destroying unexploded ordnance. TEEX offers a 4-week unexploded ordnance (UXO) technician course that not only fit Sloan well, but also qualified for Veteran’s Administration funding.

There was a potential problem, though. The primary tool of unexploded ordnance technician is a metal detector, and the ferrous metals in prosthetic limbs were thought to interfere with the devices.

Training Coordinator and former Naval EOD Technician, Ed Fritz, who oversees TEEX’s UXO program, felt that Tyler might be a good subject to test the interference theory.  If there was none, or if it could be mitigated, then an appropriate vocation could open up for many of our returning veterans with prostheses.

On November 18, Tyler made the short drive from San Antonio to Texas A&M University’s RELLIS Campus, home of the program. Fritz and Sloan spent some of the day together working with the metal detector on the TEEX UXO grid.

On the following day, representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, Veterans Administration, unexploded ordnance industry’s certifying organization, and private industry converged on Riverside to witness a demonstration.

Wendy and Tyler explained his primary prosthetic, which was chosen for the day because it had the highest number of metal parts and was most likely to cause interference. Ed Fritz then briefed the group on the metal detector and the possible interference issues.

The party then moved to the UXO training area. Sloan slowly began to work in the sand grid, a 100 feet x 100 feet area full of various unexploded munitions. Using the detector, Sloan discovered several pieces of ordnance, including a land mine. As photographers circled and the  group watched from a distance, Sloan confidently made his way through the field. He demonstrated not only his ability to find the ordnance, but the physical dexterity needed to dig it out of the ground.

Back at the Public Safety and Security division’s headquarters, the official observer group was careful not to state an official opinion. However, everyone's mood reflected the apparently successful demonstration. Once again, TEEX brought together government and industry to help our citizens. As long as there are Wounded Warriors, hopefully, we’ll see more and more of them in the Brazos Valley.

Tyler's Landmine

For more information on TEEX’s Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Technician course, visit the UXO website or contact Ed Fritz at 979-862-3410.

For more information on the Center for the Intrepid and the Fallen Heroes Fund, please visit the Fallen Heroes Fund website.

Sam White is a communications specialist and blogger for theTexas Engineering Extension Service and welcomes your comments. Know of something interesting happening at TEEX? Please submit blog ideas to

Thursday, November 4, 2010

TEEX Director Gary Sera Discusses Green Rural Economic Development

The more things change ... the more they stay the same. Those of you who were around in the late 1970's may remember the oil embargo and the line of cars waiting to fill up their tanks at the local gas station. At the time, I happened to be working my way through college in one of those gas stations. As gas became more and more expensive, people starting looking at smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Energy conservation became a big deal as home owners started insulating their homes, sealing their windows and adjusting their thermostats. Then a funny thing happened. Oil prices dropped, and then the only people who were still looking at energy efficiency were those “weirdos” who had nothing better to do.

Some years later the Valdez oil spill occurred, and guess what? We all became environmentally conscious again, going through another cycle of energy conservation and recycling. Can you see the pattern? Over the years, we have been trained to associate “green” behavior with negative events: oil embargoes, wars, oil spills, global warming, etc, etc, etc.

I think we have learned our lesson. Now is our chance to be proactive about Green energy and development. I am very excited to present our Growing Green Communities Initiative. This is about the positives associated with behaving in an environmentally friendly manner. It is about businesses being more successful and more profitable. It is about people being healthier. It is about leaving our future generations the resources they need to be healthy and happy. Through a series of conferences and workshops, people from throughout the country will be sharing ideas and best practices about how we can all benefit from thinking and behaving Green. We will learn that it is good business to be Green. We will learn that going Green is not complicated; it is simple. Plus, we will find out that it is interesting. And, dare I say it, fun.
As we travel throughout the state (our first conference is in Odessa, Texas, on Dec. 1-2), we’ll be keeping you updated on the latest ideas, techniques, and information that will help your business, your community, and your bottom line.

To stay tuned to our Growing Green Initiative, visit any of these sites, where we are updating information daily:

Growing Green Communities Website

Growing Green Communities on Facebook

Growing Green Communities on Twitter

Growing Green Communities Blog

I look forward to seeing you in Odessa!

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Growing Green - Sustainable Rural Development for Texas

The Texas Engineering Extension Service's (TEEX) Knowledge Engineering division has always been the “go-to” group in Texas to help spur economic growth. They’ve helped several Texas towns and cities bring new businesses and jobs to their areas. So it was no surprise when Knowledge Engineering was chosen to provide a statewide education program on sustainable and green economic development opportunities for rural and economically distressed areas of Texas.
Named Growing Green, the program’s goal is to increase awareness of green economic development and job creation opportunities among small businesses, entrepreneurs, economic developers and local leaders.

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), TEEX and Growing Green will conduct a series of informational conferences and training sessions. The funding is part of the EDA’s Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund, which is intended to foster green development by promoting economic competitiveness while enhancing environmental quality. These events will bring the latest knowledge and technical expertise on sustainable development practices to rural Texas.

In preparation for the conferences, TEEX formed an advisory council of Texas economic advisers and industry leaders to shape the conference’s message. Through the council and other affiliations, Growing Green Communities will partner and collaborate with the business community, universities, state and federal agencies, trade associations, workforce boards, and local government and non-governmental organizations that promote green economic development.

TEEX’s Knowledge Engineering division has also established a website,, to provide information about each conference as well as information about the program, sponsors, exhibitors and our advisory council.
The first conference is planned for the Permian Basin area on Dec. 1-2, 2010, at the MCM Grande Hotel & Fun Dome in Odessa, Texas. Growing Green attendees will hear from federal and state agencies with programs and assistance opportunities for targeted rural communities. The conference agenda, as well as hotel and speaker information, is available at the Growing Green Communities website, where you’ll also find a secure online registration system for your convenience.

Other possible conference locations through 2012 include Aransas Pass, New Braunfels and the Texas Panhandle. We’ll update Growing Green Communities as more information becomes available so that you can make plans to join us.

In addition to the website and conference series, you can keep up with Growing Green Communities through the Growing Green Communities blog. There, we’ll update you on conference details, speakers and exhibitors as the information becomes available. We’re also updating our facebook fan page, and twitter account daily, where we post the latest green economic development, energy and employment news.

Sam White is a communications specialist and blogger for theTexas Engineering Extension Service and welcomes your comments. Know of something interesting happening at TEEX? Please submit blog ideas to

Friday, September 24, 2010

Disaster City® Volunteer Program

I’ve written a lot recently about Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1). The Task Force is based out of College Station and is sponsored by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), a member of The Texas A&M University System. They train at TEEX’s Disaster City®, our 52-acre training facility, which is a mock community featuring full-scale, collapsible structures designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage, and is customizable for the specific training needs of any group. Emergency responders worldwide visit Disaster City® for unparalleled search and rescue training at the most comprehensive emergency response training facility available today.

A key ingredient of the training at Disaster City is realism, including the chaos and disorganization provided by victims. To this end, in 2006 the TEEX Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Division began recruiting from the surrounding communities and found an incredible group of volunteers to assist with US&R training and large-scale exercises. Disaster City® volunteers help give authenticity to the chaos, making exercises conducted at Disaster City® some of the most comprehensive and true-to-life in the world. Without the volunteer program, TX-TF1 and students training in Disaster City® wouldn’t be able to experience dealing with live victims that have realistic injuries and the emotions that accompany them.

To ensure the closest to real-world training, the division seeks volunteers from all walks of life, age groups and occupations. On a typical exercise you’ll find students from Texas A&M University and Blinn College, community groups such as the Boy Scouts and church groups, homemakers, retirees, spouses and emergency response students. Disasters aren’t choosy, and all volunteers are welcome.

Examples of disaster scenarios that volunteers participate in include:
  • Aftermath of a train wreck involving the derailment a 7-car passenger train
  • The collapse of an office building and parking garage
  • Entrapment in a collapsed wooden building that was destroyed by a tornado
  • Exposure to a chemical accident or chemical attack
  • Contamination by a biological weapon or dirty bomb
  • Injury at the bottom of a river bank after a flood
  • Entrapment and injury in a collapsed strip mall

Some volunteer opportunities in Disaster City® require the use of makeup to give victims the appearance they are injured. For this, they use special effects makeup (also called "moulage") such as fake blood, burns, cuts, broken bones, and other techniques to give the scenario a high level of realism.

Animal lovers are also offered a unique opportunity to participate in the Disaster Canine Search Program. There, volunteers get a chance to meet and interact with the canine handlers and search and rescue dogs. There are also opportunities to assist with Canine Evaluations that are periodically hosted at the facility.

As a recent volunteer, I can tell you first-hand that helping with the training is fun stuff. All volunteers are encouraged to act the part – yell for help, scream, cry in agony, plead to be rescued first, ask for water and food or beg for pain medication. If you are more interested in letting someone else act like the hysterical family member, they have other emotional conditions available as well. All of these scenarios are designed to simulate the situations that responders face during an actual incident, and they rely on volunteers to help induce urgency and stress to the training exercises.

For many, the greatest reward is knowing that they did their part helping to prepare responders from Texas, the nation and the world. In addition, Disaster City® volunteers are recognized in various ways for their service and commitment to the program:

  • Certificate of Appreciation – Every volunteer will receive a certificate for each attendance, signifying that you have donated valuable time and energy in Disaster City® working to support Texas Task Force 1.
  • Disaster City® & TX-TF1 Coffee Mug – This large coffee mug, with the Disaster City® and Texas Task Force 1 logos, is perfect for that big cup of eye-opening java needed to get your volunteer day started, and perfect to show off at the office or during a late night study session with classmates. This gift is for someone who has volunteered three different shifts.
  • Disaster City® long-sleeve T-shirt – This one-of-a-kind T-shirt is only available for Disaster City® volunteers and will let everyone know that you have helped train US&R teams in Disaster City®. This gift is for someone who has volunteered six different shifts.
  • Disaster City® Challenge Coin – This rare 1½-inch coin is only given to volunteers who have demonstrated a dedicated commitment to the Disaster City® Volunteer Program. Be sure to carry the coin with you at all times, because at any time you could be challenged by a Task Force member or fellow volunteer. This gift is for someone who has volunteered nine different shifts.

Although volunteers are working in and around broken concrete, collapsed structures, train wrecks and damaged buildings, everyone’s safety is paramount. Volunteers will be be crawling on top of rubble, climbing into collapsed buildings, and getting a little dusty. All volunteers are tracked on a log so that we know your location at all times. Plus, volunteers are surrounded by some of the most qualified safety, rescue and medical personnel in the world.

Interested? Training and exercises take place in Disaster City® year-round. There are several ways to stay informed and register for volunteer opportunities. First, fill out the TEEX Volunteer Subscription Page to receive timely e-mails about volunteer opportunities. If you are on Facebook, join the Disaster City® Volunteer Program Group Page. Here you’ll not only see updates on upcoming training, but you’ll also see feedback left by other volunteers. You can also visit the Disaster City® Volunteer Program Website for further information and photos.

If you represent a group, or just want more specific information, contact the Volunteer Coordinator, Brian Smith at, or call 979-458-0857.

Sam White is a communications specialist and blogger for the Texas Engineering Extension Service and welcomes your comments. Know of something interesting happening at TEEX? Please submit blog ideas to

Friday, September 10, 2010

National Preparedness Month

Tropical Storm Hermine
September is National Preparedness Month, and right on schedule, our planet demonstrated how important it is to Have a Plan. On Tuesday, Sept. 7, just before 11 a.m., warning systems advised the College Station locations of the Texas A&M University System of a possible tornado in south College Station, and ordered everyone to seek shelter immediately. Texas A&M also activated its Code Maroon alert system, moving over 70,000 students, faculty and staff to interior stairwells and basements. I also know that throughout the area, parents began calling and texting schools, worried about their children.
I was reminded that even with the best training and planning, there can be confusion at the onset of an emergency, further emphasizing the importance of having a plan for you, your family and your workplace. 

There are three important steps we can all take to be prepared for an emergency.

Make a Plan

Because your family may not be together in an emergency, it’s important to plan how you’ll contact each other, and how to get back together.

When thinking about communicating during an emergency: Have an out-of town contact. Many times long-distance communications work when local communications have failed.
  • Make sure everyone in your family knows that contact number and has a cell phone, coins or a pre-paid phone card to make the call.
  • Have some that are too young to remember the number? Make sure that your children’s school or daycare has your information as well. Find out what their procedure is for emergencies. Make sure that you are on their emergency list, whether it is by phone, e-mail or text, so that you are informed. Plus, find out where they will post information for early pickup--local television station? Radio? Not all schools have a plan in place about how to contact parents, so be proactive.
  • Make text-messaging an important tool. Many times text messages will get through when phone calls can’t. Texting is new to many. Have your children teach you how to text.
  • Identify and use your local emergency alert systems. Although many towns still have siren systems, family members should subscribe to any emergency alert system available. Public alert certified weather radios can be purchased locally or online and can be kept in your home. Texas A&M has a Code Maroon system which uses SMS to notify students, faculty and staff of emergencies affecting the flagship campus. Twitter also has become an alert system lately, with the ability to transmit alerts to mobile devices from Code Maroon, as well as police departments, fire departments, and other government organizations.
Visit TEEX’s Emergency Preparedness Webpage for more information on planning and links to the Online Family Emergency Planning Tool.

Have a Basic Emergency Supply Kit

It’s very important to have the supplies to take care of your family for a short time after an emergency event. First and foremost, the Basic Emergency Supply Kit must have the basics for human survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth. With those items taken care of, we can add further supplies for communication and comfort.

Use common sense. Canned goods require a can opener, and most electronics require batteries. Cars and generators don’t run well without fuel. Assess each item to make sure you have an adequate supply of what it takes to run it, and the ancillary tools necessary to make the items functional.
Think. It’s important that everyone THINK about what’s essential for them, and incorporate those items into their emergency kit.

Purchasing the supplies for a basic kit costs about $130. You can find a link to a complete list of items for your Basic Emergency Supply Kit at TEEX’s Emergency Preparedness Webage, or read below how to enter to win a kit before this weekend’s Texas A&M - Louisiana Tech football game!

Members of Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) will be in the Aggie Fan Zone on the north end of Kyle Field beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. There, you can meet the team’s K-9 rescue dogs and check out one of the steel beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. See many tools of the trade, special equipment and rescue cameras. TX-TF1 will also have commemorative dog tags available for the first 3,000 visitors, and kids can pick up a collectible trading card about one of the search and rescue canines. Everyone who stops by can also enter to win an Emergency Preparedness Kit!

As part of First Responders Day, Texas A&M University has chosen this game to honor current and former members of the Task Force, as well as all first responders. Recently returned from mobilization to help local jurisdictions that were impacted by the flooding associated with Tropical Storm Hermine, TX-TF1 members will take the field before the game for an awards presentation. Following the ceremony, Task Force members and their families will sit together to enjoy some great Aggie football.

Be Informed

Different emergencies require different responses. For example, a fire calls for building evacuation, while a tornado may call for people to remain in the structure for shelter. It is critical to understand potential emergencies and the appropriate response.

Here is an extensive, but not all-inclusive, list of potential disasters, as well as actions you can take to stay safe. A list of most likely disasters may include:
BlackoutsChemical Threat
Extreme HeatFires
Influenza PandemicLandslide and Debris Flow (Mudslide)
Nuclear ThreatRadiation Threat
WildfiresWinter Storms and Extreme Cold

Links for all of the information, as well as American Red Cross shelter information and other useful preparedness links can be found on TEEX’s Emergency Preparedness Webpage.

Watch for next week’s TEEXblog, where I’ll write about volunteer opportunities for citizens to assist with training emergency responders at TEEX’s Disaster City.

Sam White is a communications specialist and blogger for the Texas Engineering Extension Service and welcomes your comments. Know of something interesting happening at TEEX? Please submit blog ideas

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sept. 11, 2010 - Texas Aggie Football Honors Texas Task Force 1 - First Responders Day

September 11th will always be a day of remembrance in America. In 2003, Texas specifically honored all those who gave their lives saving others when Texas House Bill 1937 designated September 11th of every year as Texas First Responders Day. This year, Texas A&M University has also chosen the occasion to honor current and former members of Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) at the September 11, 2010, football game against Louisiana Tech, to be played at Kyle Field at 6 p.m.

Texas Task Force 1 is an Urban Search and Rescue response team designed to provide a coordinated response to disasters in urban environments. Born in February 1997 in response to the bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City, they are capable of responding to state, national and international disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes, widespread tornadoes, flooding and man-made terrorist events.

52-Acre Disaster City® Training Facility
The Task Force is comprised of 450 personnel including search and rescue, medical, hazardous materials, and weapons of mass destruction technicians representing numerous fire departments and organizations throughout the state. Based and trained at Texas Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Disaster City® here in College Station, members must be available for deployment within four hours.

TX-TF1 has deployed to events close to home like the Aggie Bonfire collapse, as well as national disasters like the World Trade Center attack, the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When TX-TF1 travels, it takes more than 73,000 lbs. of equipment to the scene and can function for up to 10 days. The Task Force is designed to be logistically self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of operation.

On September 11, 2010, join thousands of Aggie fans in honoring these first responders and the families that support them when they are supporting us. Current and former members of the Task Force, sporting customized polo shirts for the occasion, will take the field before the game for an awards presentation. Following the ceremony, the TX-TF1 members and their families will sit together to enjoy some great Aggie football.

But the fun’s not all just on the field. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., you can find Task Force members at the TX-TF1 display in the Aggie Fan Zone on the north end of Kyle Field. Meet the team’s K-9 rescue dogs and check out one of the steel beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. See many tools of the trade, special equipment and rescue cameras. And, the first 3,000 visitors will receive commemorative dog tags and everyone can enter for a chance to win an Emergency Preparedness Kit.

Don’t have tickets? TEEX and TX-TF1 have partnered to provide a pair of tickets to fans of TX-TF1’s Facebook page. Just “Like” TX-TF1’s Facebook page and make an appropriate comment in support of TX-TF1 or Aggie Football. You may also make your entry comments on the special Texas Task Force 1 & Aggie Football event page. That’s all there is to it! The contest ends on August 31, and the winner will be announced on Facebook and notified through their Facebook account on September 2.

To learn more visit the Texas Task Force 1 Website, or for interesting, timely updates on the Task Force, “Like” the Texas Task Force 1 Facebook page.

Sam White is a communications specialist and blogger for the Texas Engineering Extension Service and welcomes your comments. Know of something interesting happening at TEEX? Please submit blog ideas to