Thursday, December 22, 2011

For winter driving: Be prepared and keep your cool

With winter driving, there are a lot of things that you can do before you hit the road to ensure a safe trip. And with more people driving these days instead of flying, you can bet that you won't be the only car on the highway this holiday season. So, before you buckle up and take off, here are some tips from Kyle McNew at TEEX's Public Safety & Security Division to help make it a smooth ride!

Before you leave

Some things to do before you open the car door:

  • Stay tuned to local broadcasts about the weather as well as road conditions. Check the weather where you're going as well!

  • As always, it's a good idea to have your car tools in good shape and available to use: spare tire, tire jack, and booster cables in case of battery failure.
  • The TxDOT website recommends you check your vehicle before making a long trip in winter weather, including the:
    • Ignition
    • Battery
    • Headlights and taillights
    • Brakes
    • Wiper blades
    • Antifreeze level
    • Fuel and exhaust systems
    • Heater/defroster
    • Tires
  • Make sure there is adequate water containing windshield antifreeze in the windshield washer reservoir. A lot of people forget to use a windshield washer fluid that does not freeze when it's 32 degrees and below.
  • Bring a good ice scraper. Running a wiper across a frozen window destroys the wiper, and it doesn't really get the ice off.
    Consider what you will do should your vehicle break down. Do you have a charged cell phone available to make a call for help? Are you able to keep warm while you're waiting? It's always a good idea to have these things on hand:

  • A spare blanket in the trunk.
  • Non-perishable food items or snacks.
  • Water.
  • Your First-Aid kit, a must-have for any vehicle.
  • A flashlight, with extra batteries, is also recommended for any long trips in the car.
  • If there is the possibility of snow and/or iced roads, a bag of sand or kitty litter is helpful to keep in the trunk, along with a hand shovel, to help gain traction in icy road conditions
  • Flares are a great idea, as well as either a lighter or matches.
On the road
When you are traveling in sub-freezing temperatures, there is the potential for ice on the roads. Be aware of the environmental conditions. McNew offers this advice:
  • Wear your seat belts! And if you have children in the car, make sure you are using the appropriate child restraint system for their size and age. Seat belts save lives.
  • Accelerate slowly and Stop sooner. Speed is always a major issue when there are freezing conditions outside. In icy conditions, stopping distance greatly increases, and the effectiveness of the brakes greatly decreases. So increase the amount of room between your vehicle and others (following distance), be cautious, and plan well ahead for times when you need to slow down and stop. Brake gently in slow, steady strokes to see how much traction you have, and begin braking early when approaching intersections or stops. If you step on your brakes and the car starts to slide, the best thing to do is to release some of that brake pressure so that those tires will start rolling again. One of the biggest reasons that people get into trouble in winter conditions is that they forget about the fact that the car just isn't going to stop as fast as they are used to.
  • Be careful on bridges and overpasses. We all know that bridges and overpasses tend to ice up before the roadway itself does, so it's important to approach any bridge or overpass with a constant speed. Don't try to accelerate or decelerate while on the bridge—you want to hold a constant speed across it. Accelerating and/or decelerating on the ice can upset the stability of the car, making it veer in some other direction than where we want it to go.
  • Use skid control rules. If you do find yourself skidding on ice, all the same rules of skid control apply. Take your foot off the accelerator or brakes, whichever one you happen to be on, and turn into the direction of the skid. Once you get the car straight again, you can try to bring it to a stop using a minimum amount of brake pressure so that you don't slide again. Unfortunately, it's hard to regain control when your vehicle slides, and you can quickly do a lot of damage.
  • Remember you will need traction. If you have to start your vehicle while it's on an icy surface, all the gas in the world isn't going to make it go. The tires need something to provide traction, whether it's pea gravel, sand, salt, kitty litter, etc. That's why it is a good idea to have a bag of any of these in your vehicle in case this happens.
  • Stay home. If it's icy outside and you don't have to absolutely go, don't go! That's the best plan with winter driving.
  • Don't drive drowsy. It's never a good idea to drive during your normal bedtime hours. Coffee does not make an awake driver, it makes a caffeinated driver that's still sleepy, and you are a danger to yourself and others. You should get out of the car, and give yourself the time to rest. Drowsy drivers are as much of a danger as texting drivers and intoxicated drivers.
  • Be PATIENT. During the holidays, forget about the holiday rush. Not only are there more people on the road, there are also more intoxicated drivers out there. You might be the best driver in the world, but you still have to worry about the other drivers. Plan ahead, leave in plenty of time, and expect the unexpected. But most of all, have some patience. Make room for the car that is changing lanes, and give yourself plenty of room so that you can react to what the other vehicles are doing. Keeping your cool during winter driving will help you arrive safely.

Click the links below for more information:

Kyle McNew is a Training Manager and Instructor for courses including Police Emergency Driving, Emergency Vehicle Operations, and Traffic Accident Avoidance at TEEX.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Growing Green Communities - Austin Rural Sustainability Conference

Learn how sustainable technologies and business practices can save money, make money and create jobs

It’s no secret that Texas has experienced not only the hottest summer on record, but one of the worst wildfire seasons in memory. Hundreds of homes were lost as friends and neighbors scrambled to simply survive the long, hot summer. Unfortunately, as we move into the fall, meteorologists predict a second year of the La Nina weather pattern which is believed to have caused our hot, dry weather. Though we can’t change the weather, on November 14-16, Texans can help mitigate next year’s heat as well as learn how to rebuild “green.” Register today for the fourth Texas Rural Sustainability Conference in Austin, conducted by Growing Green Communities.

The Growing Green Communities Rural Sustainability Conference is for anyone interested in hearing and seeing real-life examples from people who have saved money, made money and created jobs by adopting sustainable technologies and business practices.

Need more reasons to attend?
  • Learn practical, real-world examples of sustainable business practices.
  • Meet representatives and gain insights on programs from state and federal agencies.
  • Learn about funding sources, incentives and other resources available for sustainable business development.
  • Network with peers and service providers.
  • Earn Continuing Education Units.
Sustainability is not a new concept for rural communities, whose roots in agriculture have ensured a long history of interest in resource management. The very nature of rural life demands an entrepreneurial, independent spirit and close attention to the bottom line. The Growing Green conference series brings information and resources about sustainable technologies and business practices to rural areas, shortening the distance to rural communities and presenting real opportunities to diversify rural economies and create jobs.

Speakers and Green Tracks
Our keynote speakers in Austin include Texas State Sen. Steve Ogden and Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. Other speakers include representatives from business, finance, industry and government.

You can find information on our entire slate of speakers on the Austin conference speaker’s page on

While there, check out our Growing Green conference tracks:
  • Financing and Incentives for Growing Green
  • Growing Green with Renewable Energy and Sustainable Practices
  • Progressive Practices by Texas Utilities
  • Green Workforce Development
  • Building and Managing Sustainable Facilities
Please visit for a complete green conference program.

Growing Green Awards
Plan to attend the opening session on Nov. 14, from 2 – 4 p.m., where we will announce our first-ever Growing Green Awards. The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) will honor 10 outstanding initiatives that have created economic value and opportunity through environmental stewardship, energy conservation and sustainable practices in Texas rural communities. The awards program will recognize individuals, businesses, communities and organizations in five categories:
  • School Districts, including Private Schools
  • Rural Communities
  • Electric Cooperatives and Municipal Electric Utilities
  • Businesses
  • Elected Officials
The criteria for evaluation for all categories include the degree to which the effort saved money, made money or created jobs as a result of an activity or initiative dedicated to energy efficiency, renewable energy solutions, creating sustainable communities or clean energy technologies.

For more information, please visit the Growing Green Awards page on the Growing Green Communities website.

The Growing Green conference series and website are produced by the Texas Engineering Extension Service’s Knowledge Engineering Division under a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The grant, “Communicating, Collaborating and Innovating towards Sustainable Development,” will bring sustainable economic development opportunities to rural communities through conferences and other means of information sharing.

Texans are tough, and we’ll recover from whatever nature throws at us. Texans are also smart and know that rebuilding sustainably is a key to saving money, making money and creating jobs for the 21st century.

Sam White is a communications specialist for the Texas Engineering Extension Service and Internet marketing manager for the Growing Green Communities conference series. We welcome your comments on our blog, or you may write to me at

NOTE: A variety of exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are available to help you find the most effective way to promote your business to our attendees. For further information on exhibiting or sponsoring our Rural Sustainability Conference in Austin or our upcoming April conference in Rockwall, Texas, please visit the sponsor and exhibitor page on, or contact Ann Lauter at 979-458-8723.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Texas Helicopter Search and Rescue Team: A Partnership That Saves Lives

Thanks to Rescue 911 and other emergency reality shows on TV, helicopters are one of those things that people anticipate coming to their call for help. And in a lot of cases they are the best tool to solve many of the problems. They can move quickly, and they can reduce the hazardous exposure to the rescuers. Flying in a helicopter may seem dangerous, but sometimes it’s more dangerous putting a boat in the water than it is putting a helicopter in the sky. If you’ve got a boat and you’re doing a rescue and right below you is Killer Fang Falls, there’s a chance that everybody is going to go over those falls if the motor quits. It can be a whole lot safer doing everything from the sky.

With search and rescue, we have three different avenues of approach. We can approach from the ground, the water, or the air. Invariably, something is going to happen that makes it impossible for us to approach from the ground or the water. Flooding, for example, can make the ground approach difficult or impossible. Obstructions in the water can cause life threatening and unsafe conditions for boat squads attempting a rescue. That’s when air rescue is a very complementary modality – a perfect tool in the response toolbox.

One of our mottos is “Do the most good for the most people in the least amount of the time.” The tool that works is the best one – it may be as complex as sending in an entire task force or it may be as simple as sending in one Blackhawk helicopter to retrieve someone trapped on the roof of their vehicle, on the top of their house, or out of a tree.

The Texas Helicopter Search and Rescue Team (HSART) program was started in 2001 after Tropical Storm Allison. Initially, it was a joint partnership between STAR Flight, an EMS/Rescue helicopter program; Texas Military Forces (TxMF), a part of the Texas National Guard; and TEEX and its Texas Task Force 1. The program now has standard operating guidelines, standard equipment and standard load configurations.

Every person that goes on the hook goes on the hook the exact same way; every person that sits in the helicopter sits on the exact same spot. That coordination, that crew management piece is really being honed, and that’s one of the advantages of having the monthly trainings we hold.

We’ve got 15 members of the Texas Task Force 1 now who are dedicated to helicopter rescue. We bought each one of the rescuers all of the gear that they needed so that they’re outfitted exactly like the pilots and crew chiefs: same exact helmets, same exact flight suits, same exact equipment. We also provided them with the additional personal protective equipment to do all of the lifesaving missions. That’s above and beyond what the flight crew and pilots are taking with them on the helicopter. And we bought all of the appliances to provide the lifesaving equipment—the helicopter litter, the rescue baskets, etc. That just seemed like the right thing to do-- that’s part of the partnership. And it gives all of our rescuers ownership because it’s their safety that depends on that equipment working, so they will take better care of it if it’s their stuff.

We’re just starting to work on TxMF’s new helicopter airframe, which is called a Lakota (LUH72), in addition to the Blackhawk helicopter. While it doesn’t have the same capacity as the Blackhawk, the Lakotas can still be used for search and rescue, rapid needs assessments and for surveys, as well as doing a 911 response single dispatch to an area. If the situation is bigger than they can solve, if they need more resources, then they would probably call in one of the Blackhawk crews to assist in dealing with it. Plus, the Lakota is the same helicopter as the EC145, which is what the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and STAR Flight have. So these three organizations will have the same asset. That gives us interoperability, which is always a good thing. The cross-training pieces of it will apply, and lessons learned working with one organization transfer to the other organization, and that’s what we’re hoping for.

The Texas HSART is important for our citizens because sometimes air rescue is the only tool that will work. Sometimes without that tool, the problem is unsolvable. There is nothing in the policy and procedures that allows for a national guardsman to be a rescuer, and there’s nothing in the Texas Task Force 1’s guidelines that allows any of our people to fly helicopters. So by providing Task Force rescuers to the TxMF helicopters, we provide the complementary piece that gives the state and the TxMF the full benefit of that aviation asset. It’s a perfect partnership that saves lives.

Jeff Saunders is TEEX's Associate Director of Disaster Preparedness & Response as well as Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) Operations Chief.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Five Key Principles: How to Defend Against an Edged Weapon

Liberi: “And against me, neither arms nor armor are to be of value.”

Fairbairn: “There is no more deadly weapon than the knife. An entirely unarmed man has no defense against it.”

Obviously these two were really proud of their offensive knife skills. However, those of us that teach defensive knife skills to law enforcement officers can’t let our students just believe them and give up. Arms and armor are of value — a knife may be the deadliest weapon, but an unarmed man can defend himself against it.

Bruce Siddle, founder of PPCT Management Systems and the Warrior Science Group, designed and implemented the Spontaneous Knife Defense program to defend against an edged weapon attack. He chose a simple, yet effective way to defend against a spontaneous attack using five core principles that have been taught around the world. These principles are:

  1. Avoid the Attack
  2. Control the Weapon
  3. Stun the Offender
  4. Ground the Offender
  5. Disarm the Offender

First and foremost is to Avoid the Attack. This can be accomplished in various ways, but simply put it means to stop the edged weapon from stabbing or slicing you. Obviously the best way to avoid an edged weapon attack is by using a firearm. When I teach this principle, I tell my students the more time, distance, and cover they can get, the better off they will be. Preferably I will be behind my car with an patrol rifle! However, what if I can’t gain distance or cover? What if the attack is spontaneous while I am standing in my interview stance at the edge of my reactionary gap? Then I need to avoid the attack by keeping the weapon from striking me through redirecting the person or the weapon, passing the weapon, or blocking the weapon. Then I need to move on to the second principle.

Controlling the Weapon can be done in various ways, but it boils down to pinning the weapon in one place. This can be done by grasping the arm that has the weapon or by pinning the weapon to the ground, or to you, in order to immobilize it. If you are going to get cut, this is when it is going to happen. You have done all that you can do to avoid the attack and it didn’t work. You need to concentrate on minimizing the damage that is going to be inflicted. This is also where the warrior mindset comes into play. I can accept a few cuts and scratches in order to live — I can withstand this attack so that I may repel it — and I really am going to go home tonight to my loved ones!

Now that the weapon is controlled, we move on to Stun the Offender. We move from defensive to offensive tactics. If necessary, may I use my firearm? Absolutely, as long as your gun hand is free or you are able to draw and shoot with your support hand. But, if you can’t use your firearm for whatever reason, stun them. Siddle defines stunning as overwhelming sensory input that is sudden, intense, and unexpected. Strikes can be delivered to the head, side of the neck, or anywhere else on the body that you have the ability to strike — and you want to continue to strike them until they are overwhelmed. As you are stunning them, ensure that you continue to trap the weapon so they can’t use it on you.

Grounding the Offender, although not necessary, does aid in the ability to disarm them while allowing you to control them and the weapon at the same time. 

Finally, we Disarm the Offender. Some thought must go into this step before actually doing it. What are you going to do with the edged weapon? You have to secure it somewhere on your body, so where is the best place for this? Look at your own equipment and find somewhere that is stable and strong, that won’t be cut away when placing the edged weapon in it, and then practice finding that spot during a high stress encounter. After disarming, you should finish with a handcuffing technique.

Remember these five key principles when defending against an edged weapon, and always remember the first is the most important – Avoid the Attack. If I can see the weapon quickly enough and recognize it for what it is, I can increase the distance (the farther, the better), gain cover, and use an implement of deadly force if necessary. If they are too close, block the weapon to keep it from getting into the core of the body and then trap it to stop the attack. After that, it is a matter of stunning, grounding, and then disarming the attacker.

It doesn’t really matter what system you use or how you choose to protect yourself – by following these key principles you can prove Liberi and Fairbairn wrong. You can survive an edged weapon attack, and go home at the end of your shift.

Larry Frye is Training Coordinator for the Public Safety and Security Training Division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), which is a part of the Texas A&M University System. Larry has over 20 years of experience in law enforcement, including 12 years in instruction.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering 9/11.

September 11th was a day filled with disbelief. The news media had reported that an aircraft had flown into the towers, and to see it replayed on television, you had to think it was a mishap. Then, all of a sudden, LIVE, for everyone to see–there was a second plane, and you’re really thinking, “My eyes are playing tricks on me.” But it happened, and it happened on U.S. soil.

I got a call very early that morning, saying, “Turn the news on, turn the news on!” And when I first saw it, I was stunned. I was paged immediately by FEMA: “Get to New York!” My responsibility was to interface between the military and all of the FEMA teams coming in and out of New York City, including all of the urban search and rescue groups. Ultimately, 17 of the 28 national urban search and rescue teams assisted at Ground Zero. Flying in that night from California in the cockpit of a C141, we landed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Off in the distance, you could actually see the lights and a smoke plume. Later as we drove into New York City with the other FEMA responders, we were all shocked and dismayed.

We arranged for the first helicopters that flew over Ground Zero on the 12th, and we saw the vertical view. It was so amazing because the destruction was so confined, just within a few blocks. And to see ALL of the activity from an aerial viewpoint was incredible — almost an orchestra of pieces and parts in motion. The first time that I was actually on the rubble pile was a surreal experience. There was every color of smoke that you can imagine. I remember learning the colors of the rainbow in science class, and I was thinking, “Wait a second, there are more colors here.”

There was a heat about the pile, about the ground—it was not just a construction site, it was not just another area, it was very, very unique. To me there was almost a silence about it. Certainly you heard the cranes, you heard the cutting, but it was almost like stepping into a church. You wanted to lower your voice, you wanted to be respectful— that experience has really stayed with me.

Seeing the devastation, we knew there were losses. And since the community of emergency responders is relatively small and close-knit the world over, we were thinking about the people that we had lost. And we thought of the people who’d had no idea of what was going to happen to them. Had it actually really happened like we’d seen on the news? But we couldn’t grieve then, because we were asked to do a job that day. I think the general feeling was that we were called upon to use our particular skill set to help others. We’ll never know what difference was made, but just being able to offer some service was our job. And not only at those major events like 9/11, but firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel – they do these things every day, every time someone calls 9-1-1. In some way, people’s lives are affected and the call is being answered. This was a bigger event, but our response was just an extension of what a community’s emergency response group does day in and day out.

The thing that I will never forget is the incredible resilience and attitude that Americans can show. We have disagreements, politically and socially, but during and after 9/11, everyone came together, and I have to say I was never more proud to be an American. The streets of Manhattan were lined with people who were thanking the rescuers. For our part, we didn’t need thanks. We were doing a job that our training and family support allowed us to do. We were actually more worried about the local community and making sure that they were okay. It was just a very special time that reminded me that the American spirit is an amazing thing.

Unfortunately, the reality that struck us was that terrorism had come to American soil. As we remember 9/11, we’re going to continue to be prepared and vigilant. We’ve learned to communicate better between different jurisdictions and with the federal government. Today, as a country, if something bad happens, we know we can pull together.

September 11th will remain a defining moment for our country, just as other world-changing events such as Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK and the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger have marked generations before. And as we pause to reflect on the events of 9/11 a decade later, we stand renewed in our resolve to never forget.


J. Robert “Bob” McKee is the director of Texas Task Force 1 and TEEX’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Division. He was with the Ohio Task Force One on September 11th, 2001, and was deployed to Ground Zero in New York City.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Making Emergency Preparedness Easier for the Whole Family

Hurricanes, chemical spills, ice storms, power failures, floods... any of these events can lead to a crisis situation if you aren’t prepared. One way to keep a challenge from turning into a crisis is to have a clear plan in place for dealing with the unexpected, and a simple, ready-to-go emergency kit. September is National Emergency Preparedness month and the peak of hurricane season, so now is the perfect time to make a plan and build your own emergency kit.

Disasters can hit at any time, any place, with limited warning. If a plan doesn’t already exist, then it will be too late to make one… much less act on it. So follow the advice of the emergency responders: make a plan, build an emergency kit, and stay informed. These three tips will help you and your family if an emergency should occur.

Make A Plan

There are several key factors in making your disaster plan. First, you need to answer a few important questions:

·     If your family is separated, where will you meet in the event of an emergency? Don’t count on cell phones and email, as they may not be available in an emergency. Instead, decide ahead of time on a safe place to meet, and choose an alternate location in the event the first choice is inaccessible.

·    Who knows how to find you?  Include an out-of-state relative or friend on your planning team. Let them know where you will meet, and make sure that you can contact them easily. If something happens, they can be alerted and can let others know where you planned to meet. Remember, a local contact is likely to be affected by the same emergency affecting you.
·     Who knows the plan? Your emergency plan isn’t much good if you are the only one who knows.  Write it down, give a copy to your emergency contacts, and make sure everyone on your team knows what to do. Remind everyone (practice) from time to time so you are always ready. Find out more about making a written emergency plan by viewing

·     What equipment will you need? A simple emergency kit can be a lifesaver – literally. Put together an emergency kit and make it part of your plan.

·     If you have small children that are in school or daycare, find out what the school’s policy is about pickup during times of bad weather. Will they call you? Or will they announce it on local television stations and radio?

·     Do you have pets? Will they need to go with you in the event of an emergency?

·     Do you have elderly neighbors that may not realize that there is bad weather or an emergency situation coming?
Build a Kit

Building an emergency kit requires some pre-planning and shopping, but once it is done you won’t have to do anything except check to make sure it is up to date annually. This is also a good time to review your written plan. An emergency kit is designed to be used either inside the home, for a shelter-in-place situation, or outside the home if you are required to leave your home for a period of time. "Shelter-in-place" means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school, or in between. In the event of a chemical spill or a fire at a chemical plant, it may also mean "seal the room." In other words, you will need to take steps to prevent outside air from coming in.
Let’s start with the basics of building a kit:

·    First, find a plastic tub or bin with a lid, preferably one that latches or snaps on tightly. 

·     You’ll need a flashlight or fluorescent lantern (the lantern allows you to light up a larger area). Also, emergency candles, a lighter, and/or matches are recommended. Candles should be the glass jar type, which are less affected by wind or weather and don’t require a holder.
·     Assemble or purchase an up-to-date, complete first aid kit.  This should be separate from your household first aid kit, so that is stays complete and in place.  First aid kits should contain an assortment of first aid items, such a Band-Aids, antiseptic, bandages, tape, aspirin, sanitation and hygiene items, and depending on the individual may need to also contain  prescriptions, glasses/contact lenses and solution.

·     Clothing is the next category to consider.  It is a good idea to consider a several-day supply of clothes; and clothing can be folded into Ziploc bags. If you are preparing your kit in the summer, remember to consider packing for various temperatures and seasons. Grab a poncho or three as well, for rain or to make a small shelter.

·     Think about your clothing and bedding needs. Include some blankets; woven blankets are less bulky than quilted comforters, and wool blankets retain heat even when wet.

·     Food is the next emergency kit category. Camping or backpacking food, which can be found at many sporting goods or outdoors stores, is ideal for this purpose. While most people think of canned food as a primary food to pack, it is heavy and requires lots of accessories (pots, pans, etc.). Backpacking food is efficient for either a shelter-in-place or an evacuation because of the built-in heater packs. Try a few first, so that you know how to prepare it (and what you like!).

·     Have at least 3-4 cases of 8 oz. bottles of water ready near your emergency kit. Gallon jugs are also fine, but people tend to waste a little more water if they are pouring from a jug. With the smaller bottles, they can be used for drinking, rinsing or smaller usage.

·     Other supplies needed include a length of rope, large trash bags for storage or to keep items dry, and a small fire extinguisher. Duct tape and a plastic tarp are also good items to have in your kit in the event that windows need to be secured.

·     Once the essentials, including the first aid-kit, clothing, food and water and supplies have been packed in the bin, you might consider entertainment ideas, especially if there are children in the family. Books, puzzles, or activities that do not require batteries may be helpful if traveling in the car or for extended periods away from home.

·     Supplies for your vehicle may also be in order, including: a flashlight, extra batteries and maps, a first aid kit, tire repair kit, pumps, bottled water and non-perishable food.
Finally, documentation is extremely important for completing your kit. Organizing a “financial first aid” kit will help you gather all of the important documents, such as insurance paperwork, home owner policies, and bank account information – these are items you’ll need if you have to completely start over from scratch.

Although it may sound a bit overwhelming, a little thought and a little planning will help you and your family be prepared for whatever surprises come your way.

Stay Informed

Important Links
Visit FEMA’s for more information about disaster preparedness for your family, and tips on making an emergency plan and kit.  The same information can also be found in Spanish on

This link will help you Develop a Family Disaster Plan.

Here's some help with Evacuation Plans.
Quickshare your emergency information: This online application allows you to create an email with basic emergency information to send to family and friends that you would like to contact in the event of an emergency.

TEEX’s Emergency Preparedness page has links to more information that you can use to make your preparations easier and more complete.

Plus, 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: Blackouts, Chemical Threat, Earthquakes, Explosions, Extreme Heat, Fires, Floods, Hurricanes, Influenza Pandemic, Landslide and Debris Flow, (Mudslide), Nuclear Threat, Radiation Threat, Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Wildfires, Winter Storms and Extreme Cold, Tsunamis and Volcanoes.

Take care of yourself and your family by being prepared. Remember: make a plan, get a kit, and stay informed!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Four Universal Rules of Gun Handling: TEEX's Lee Santo

One of the subjects we teach police officers at the TEEX Firearms Training Range is the safe use and handling of firearms. There are four universal rules of gun handling we work to instill in all of our firearms students. The Four Universal Rules of Gun Handling are included here with a brief explanation of each rule.

First Safety Rule: Treat all guns as if they are loaded ALL the time. A lot of people are injured, or even killed, by the mishandling of supposedly unloaded firearms every year. There is no excuse for this happening. Treat guns properly and with respect, then there should be no problem. If you see a gun and you don’t know what to do with it, leave it alone. Treat it like it’s loaded. Don’t touch it if you’re not sure how to handle it.

Second Safety Rule: Never point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to DESTROY. By muzzle, I mean the end where the bullet comes out. That’s where the projectile leaves the weapon. Do not point the gun at anything that can’t be fixed or replaced. Do not point the gun at yourself or someone else unless you intend to shoot them. This means anywhere inside your own home, or wherever you may be that you don’t want the projectile to hit, injure or kill someone. Remember, firearms by their design are inherently dangerous, especially if mishandled. So, don’t point the end of the gun, the muzzle end, at anything you’re not willing to destroy.

Another important point about the second rule: find a safe direction to point the muzzle when handling the firearm. On the TEEX firearms range it is pretty easy to find a safe direction—it’s where we post our targets.  If you are handling a firearm inside your own home, you need to be sure what direction is a safe direction. Are the interior walls of your home made of sheetrock? Sheetrock doesn’t stop bullets. Consider what is on the other side of that wall. That might be your children’s bedroom. You might live in an apartment where there are people living on the other side of that interior wall. Do you live on the top floor of an apartment complex? If you do, pointing the weapon down, towards the floor, may not be a good idea. Consequently, if you live on the bottom floor, pointing it up may not be the safest idea either. If an exterior wall is made out of brick—that might be the safest direction to point the gun because the brick might stop a bullet should there be an inadvertent discharge. So, always be aware of where you’re pointing the muzzle and don’t point it at anything you don’t intend to hurt, destroy, or kill.

Third Safety Rule: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re ready to shoot. The vast majority of modern firearms have a variety of safety mechanisms to keep the weapon from firing unless the safety mechanism is disengaged.  These safeties also prevent the weapon from firing even if it is accidentally dropped. The gun will only fire when the trigger is depressed. So, when handling weapons, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to shoot. It’s just a good rule. Whether you are drawing the gun from a holster or putting it back in the holster, getting it out of a gun case, gun cabinet, gun safe, car trunk---WHATEVER, keep your finger off the trigger. Remember, your finger stays off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to shoot.

Fourth Safety Rule: Know your target and what’s beyond your target. On the TEEX Firearms Range where we train the police officers, we have a large bullet trap behind the target line that catches all the bullets. But if you’re going out for recreational firearms use, you may not always have the luxury of a bullet trap. You need to be aware of where you are shooting and where the bullet will stop. Bullets, even small caliber bullets, can travel as far as a mile. Make sure there is a backstop capable of stopping the caliber of bullet you are firing.

Even when training police officers for deadly force confrontations--situations where they may have to shoot a perpetrator committing a violent crime--we emphasize the need to know where the bullet will go in the event the bullet passes through the offender. There is no criminal or civil protection for a police officer, in an otherwise justifiable shooting, should an innocent third party be injured by the bullet the officer fired. The officers are always responsible for where those bullets travel and so are you. So, if you’re going out for a day of shooting to practice your skills, make sure you know your target and beyond--know where the bullet will stop.

Lee Santo is the Training Manager with TEEX’s Public Safety & Security Training Division, a part of The Texas A&M University System. After serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Santo has served in law enforcement for 20 years and has worked at TEEX since 2005. He has operational responsibility for the TEEX Central Texas Police Academy and supervises the scheduling and delivery of all law enforcement extension training programs. TEEX offers a variety of courses in the public safety field and law enforcement, including the Central Texas Police Academy’s Basic Peace Officer course. For more information, visit the Law Enforcement page or visit TEEX’s Public Safety & Security division page.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spanish Fire School: Unique Training Delivered by World Class Instructors

Things have been heating up this week as temperatures have soared over 100 degrees F at the Brayton Fire Training Field, which is hosting the 45th Annual Spanish Fire Training School for more than 630 firefighters from more than 15 countries.  Firefighters are taking courses, not just in firefighting, but in rescue, hazardous materials and fire instructor training. And every course is taught in Spanish with the assistance of 173 guest instructors and safety officers from across the world.

The instructors volunteer their time for the brotherhood of the fire service that knows no borders.  They recognize the importance of training and are vocal supporters of this unique school for Spanish-speaking firefighters. Some have been coming every year for 10, 20, 30 years or more!  One of them is Ramón Domínguez from Mexico City, who leads the training in hazardous materials.  He has been attending for 35 years, well before the HazMat program at the school started in 1992. 

Missing the school for the first time in 50+ years is Chief Salvador Lambretón from Monterrey, Mexico.  Chief Lambretón, who helped establish the Spanish Fire School in 1966, was unable to attend this year.

TEEX officials make no qualms about the fact that the school would not be possible without the dedication of guest instructors and safety officers.  To show their appreciation this year, the school reinstated a tradition of handing out a special bright red Spanish Fire School cap to each of them.  The caps are easy to spot around the field - a symbol of respect for those who come each year to share their knowledge with the next generation of firefighters.

Ten guest instructors who had taught at Annual Fire Training Schools for 10 or more years passed away during the past year and were remembered in a moving ceremony on Wednesday morning at the Guest Instructor Memorial Wall at Brayton Field.  The names of the 10 instructors will now join hundreds of others already engraved on the wall. The ceremony was marked by the laying of a wreath, an honor guard, tolling of 5 bells, lowering the flags to half staff, a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," and bugle calls delivered by 16-year-old Julio Robles. Robles, the son of guest instructor Juan Jesus Robles of Nuevo Laredo, has played at the ceremony for three years.

See more about the annual school on the Bryan/College website or read the story in the Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper. Photos from the weeklong school can also be viewed on the TEEX Flickr page.

Escuela para Bomberos: Instrucción sin igual en manos de instructores a nivel mundial

Ha hecho un calor impresionante esta semana, con más de 100 grados F  en el Campo Brayton de Capacitación, donde se ofrece la 45ª Escuela para Bomberos en Español a la que asisten unos 630 bomberos de más de 15países. Los bomberos toman cursos de combate de incendio, rescate y materiales peligrosos, entre otras materias, impartidos en español por 173 instructores invitados y oficiales de seguridad de todo el mundo. 

Los instructores se ofrecen como voluntarios en honor a la hermandad que no reconoce fronteras a la hora de responder a incendios y demás emergencias. Todos entienden la importancia de la capacitación y saben que la que se ofrece en esta Escuela es de un nivel muy elevado. Algunos han venido todos los años desde hace 10, 20, 30 años o más. Uno de ellos es el Ing. Ramón Domínguez, de la Ciudad de México, el Director de los cursos de materiales peligrosos, quien asiste desde hace 35 años, mucho antes de establecerse el programa HazMat en la Escuela en 1992. Lamentablemente este año ―por primera vez en más de 50 años ― falta el Jefe Salvador Lambretón, de Monterrey, México. El Jefe Lambretón, uno de los fundadores de la Escuela en 1966, por desgracia no pudo llegar esta vez.      

La dirección de TEEX reconoce que no sería posible la Escuela sin la dedicación de los instructores invitados y los oficiales de seguridad. Este año, para hacer constar su agradecimiento por la contribución de estos voluntarios, se ha vuelto a introducir una antigua tradición de regalarles a todos un gorro rojo con el nombre de la Escuela. Ahora, en el Campo Brayton se pueden identificar por su gorro rojo a los que se ofrecen desinteresadamente para compartir sus conocimientos con la siguiente generación de bomberos.

Como de costumbre se reconocieron a los instructores invitados (con diez años o más de servicio en cualquiera de las Escuelas de TEEX) que fallecieron durante el último año. Se realizó la ceremonia conmemorativa el miércoles frente a la lápida donde se inscribirán los nombres de los diez instructores difuntos. Durante la ceremonia se colocó una corona, la Guardia de Honor puso las banderas a media asta, se escucharon los toques simbólicos de campana y una versión de la canción tradicional “Amazing Grace,” y tocó la corneta Julio Robles, hijo del instructor Juan Jesús Robles, ambos de Nuevo Laredo. El joven Robles ha tocado la corneta en las últimas tres ceremonias conmemorativas celebradas en el Campo Brayton. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TEEX Firefighter Training: Safety is No Accident

At the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), we have the privilege – and responsibility – of training many thousands of firefighters and emergency response personnel from all 50 states and from more than 45 countries each year. Our goal is to provide the highest quality, most realistic emergency services training in the world, and the safest training environment possible. In fact, our emphasis on safety – both during training and on the job – is perhaps the most important element of our training programs. Our TEEX Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI) is committed to providing safe training experiences and promoting the importance of safety on the job.

Developing a Comprehensive Safety Manual
Our safety programs have evolved since we began training Texas firefighters in 1930. A simple manual that began decades ago with 3 or 4 procedures now encompasses 358 pages, 21 procedures and 5 appendices, which meet all local, state and federal requirements. As a leading training organization, we have had an opportunity to not only develop a comprehensive set of guidelines to govern our own training programs, but also to become a valuable resource for our customers and the emergency response organizations that we serve.

Our comprehensive Safety Manual prepares participants for our courses and addresses major concerns of firefighting during training exercises. It has three major purposes:

      1)      It communicates expectations.
      2)      It defines procedures.
      3)      It describes documentation and verification policies.

Safety and NFPA 1403
Our Safety Manual outlines an extensive set of policies on controlling training conditions and scenarios – another key element of our safety program. We utilize NFPA 1403 guidance to ensure a safe training environment. We limit fuel loads to ensure that temperatures never exceed 700° F at ceiling level in any of our burn facilities. Thermal imaging is used to monitor temperatures and to determine fuel load per room; TEEX only works with permanent burn structures, so these temperatures are easier to predict and control. We have to remember that we are teaching technique – not experience – and that bringing all students out safely is our No. 1 goal.  

We stress appropriate personal protective equipment, and the Safety Manual is a primary method of communication with our students about the gear required to participate in our training exercises. The manual also addresses our policies for vehicle and equipment operation, and describes other expectations for training site operations and activities.
Some major elements include:
  • PPE requirements
  • Fall protection
  • Vehicle and equipment operation
  • Weather conditions as a hazard
  • Training apparatus and procedure safety
Our manual is provided to all guest instructors and students, as well as all safety officers and Emergency Response Team (ERT) coordinators. We post our Student Safety Manual on our webpage, and it is the third most downloaded document from the TEEX website. You can download your own copy here or by using the links below.

Extreme Weather in Texas
An often overlooked, but critical element of any safety program is coping with extreme weather. While severe weather is out of our control, we identify and communicate a severe weather plan to the students and staff before it is needed, not after the storm arrives. The safety plan includes establishment of safe havens that are often associated with tornadoes and thunderstorms. Internet, satellite TV, portable lightning monitors and fixed lightning prediction systems on the Brayton Fire Training Field assist us in severe weather monitoring. 

High heat and humidity are elements of firefighting and of our climate here in Texas.  To accomplish high-performance training during high temperatures, we stress avoidance of alcoholic beverages, and we have a clearly established hydration policy. Charts and visuals help us inform students how much water to drink based on the heat index, and our instructors monitor potential heat stress or other concerns. We also have field paramedics on-site during all training evolutions to monitor students for heat stress and to provide patient care when needed.

Incident command structure and brief logs
Besides our Safety Manual, policies and procedures, how do we accomplish all of the other elements required for an effective safety program? The ESTI organization and communication model is paramount to the safety of our students. It starts with an incident command structure (ICS).

Our leadership team utilizes a Training Action Plan (TAP) and daily brief logs to disseminate information to the subordinate staff. The TAP includes an organization chart, assignment list, lightning procedure, transportation and field evacuation plan, medical plan, health and safety messages and a communications plan. This command structure sets the tone for our training operations, and guarantees that the messages contained in our Safety Manual are effectively delivered to our students.

Medics on call
If something happens despite all of our safety preparations and precautions, we are ready to respond to training hazards at any given moment. TEEX utilizes field paramedics during all training, whether it is classroom or hands-on training. The field medics operate out of our first aid station and are capable of providing advanced life support both in the field and at the first aid station. Additional Safety Officers are positioned inside and outside training structures to execute emergency evacuation plans if something goes wrong. A minimum of one Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) – in full gear with a charged fire hose – is put into action for each burn evolution. We use an established evacuation route, based on training scenarios, and we never use students as Safety Officers.

Of course, having a great safety plan and a great Safety Manual isn’t a benefit if it is not implemented effectively, and implementation must be verified, as guided by NFPA 1403. In fact, many of our customers have suggested that implementation and verification of safety protocols is often much more difficult than developing them!

So we start with strong procedures and guidelines, and to ensure compliance, we utilize a number of safety checklists. Our checklist-driven planning, safety analysis, and documentation steps help to verify that our safety procedures are followed. Furthermore, they help to create a culture that focuses on the details of high-quality, high-safety training techniques.

A Safety Commitment
Safety is not an accident. It requires a comprehensive safety program and constant vigilance. There are no excuses for student injuries during training, and the consequences can be severe. How could we face their colleagues, their families if we didn’t work to make sure that everything was done right?

The bottom line is that TEEX and ESTI are 120 percent committed to providing the safest, highest quality firefighter and emergency response training available…and we have the documents to prove it.

Available downloads:

Training Safety Protocols (PDF)
Interior Pre-burn Plan (Excel)
Interior Project Safety Analysis (Excel)

by Ron Peddy, Associate Director for Logistics & Safety
Emergency Services Training Institute, Texas Engineering Extension Service

NOTE:  Portions of this blog were first presented at the 2010 Firehouse Central.