Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holiday Shopping and Cyber Safety: What you need to know

The holiday season is nearly upon us, and with that, so is the shopping season. With news daily about cyber security hacks being on the rise, how can you protect yourself while you're shopping? #TEEX Cyber Security's Catherine Gibson has some helpful information we can all use.

Remember, how we shop has changed. We've got several options now that include:

  • Shopping at the store.
  • Shopping online with delivery to the store.
  • Shopping online directly.

Stay safe with each method by starting out your shopping the right way.

  • Make sure your anti-virus and Malware are up-to-date.
  • Think about using a digital wallet or safe charge feature.
  • Choose one method and stick with it.
    • Credit Card - EXCELLENT
    • Gift card through Credit Card Company or Bank - GOOD
    • Debit Card - Turn off overdraft
    • Check - Least secure, avoid
  • Sign up for online email statements.
  • Check your transactions posted regularly.
  • Don't click the links, go directly to the site.

For Safer online shopping, make sure your connection is secure.

  • There is no such thing as totally safe.
  • Look for a secure connection with an https:// instead of http://.

Credit Cards are the best choice.

  • Automatic limit to liability
  • Long period to report fraud or theft - 60 days
  • The money "stolen" is not coming from your checking account - It's out in limbo with the credit card company.
  • Extra benefits like extended warranty periods.
  • Allows you to dispute broken or misrepresented goods.

And verify the safety "certifications" such as Verisign, GeoTrust, or McAfee SECURE.

What to do if you STILL get hacked.

  • As soon as you notice any charge, for any amount, on your credit card statement, REPORT IT!
  • To credit card company/bank.
  • To credit reporting agencies - All 3.
  • To FBI.
  • To local police - non-emergency if local.
  • Consider putting a permanent fraud alert on your credit reports requiring any new account requests to be verified by you.
  • Best source? Federal Trade Commission www.Consumer.FTC.

Stay safe and have a wonderful holiday season from all of us at TEEX!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cybersecurity: Let's Talk About Passwords.

Did you know that October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month? For the last five years, we've been promoting Stop.Think.Connect.™ 

Has it worked?

What are some things that you've done differently in your everyday online activities? Do you have different passwords for different sites? Have you uploaded the latest malware protection on your computer? Have you become educated about the ways that cyber thieves can break into your computer and your phone, retrieving information that can hurt you financially? If you haven't done anything or feel like you haven't done enough, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) has some ideas for you. 

How can I keep my online accounts and data protected? 

Your best defense is a good offense.

Step 1.

Make your account and passwords STRONG! Pins too. Use alpha numeric and long, strong passwords. An 8 character password with upper, lower, numbers and symbols could take 16 minutes to crack.

For example, you often aren’t limited in length to make a password a sentence that only you can figure out. I like pan au chocolate with strong coffee becomes: Ilik3pan@chocolatew/strongc0ffe. Even if your password can’t be that long you can still use a passphrase to create a strong password. IL6@cwsC0yum is based on the same sentence and used the first letters of the words and substituted number and symbols for letters. At 12 mixed characters it is very strong. I Like 6an @u chocolate with strong Coffee yum.

There are excellent random password generators available if you want to use them and they do produce a truly random password.  Apps and sites include:

They all work perfectly well and many will be able to let you tweak the password to meet the parameters of the password you must create.  But, they all have one problem; used on their own you still have passwords that are hard to remember, so you might be tempted to write them down. Which you now know is a cardinal mistake. So what to do?

Get a password program or app. What you really need is a password app or program to safely store your passwords. As an added benefit, most good password apps let you organize and file your passwords, the site URL’s with the ability to link directly to the site, random password generators, and much more. Some password safes that reside on your computer or device can be turned on so that they capture your passwords and ID’s and you create them and automatically store them so you can retrieve them later. All you have to remember is the initial “Master Password.” Some of the best rated password keepers for 2015, according to PCMag are:

These all have costs that range from $12.00 to $39.99 but, all three have free version that will make password management much easier, even if the free versions don’t have all the bells and whistles of the premium ones have everything you need to get the job done.

Next, get educated about cybersecurity.

Step 2.

TEEX Cybersecurity offers a wide range of online and face-to-face cybersecurity training for everyone from first-time users to experienced IT professionals. And it costs you nothing because it's funded through FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Start with one of our Online for Everyone - Non-Technical (Cyber 101) courses like Information Security for Everyone. It's short and easy and is available 24/7.  

Next, visit the Stop.Think.Connect.™ website or contact stopthinkconnect@dhs.gov. They've got valuable tips and information you can use year-round

Let's stay Cybersecure all year long!

Catherine Gibson is a Training Coordinator for the TEEX Cybersecurity Program. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she has been active in adult education and IT security for 16 years.

NOTE: Currently, the TEEX Cyber Security Facebook Page is running a contest, so enter to win today! It ends on October 31, 2015.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Determination Drives Heavy Equipment Operator

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) trains hundreds of individuals each year to become heavy equipment operators. Although most are successful, each is exposed to unique operational challenges during field exercises. For some, the coordinated use of equipment controls is the most difficult; others have problems with depth perception.

Regardless of the challenges, very seldom if ever are new operators required to manipulate machinery without the use of both arms. That is, unless you’re McCulloch County heavy equipment operator, Cody Crouch. TEEX was there during a recent training delivery in Brady, Texas, to witness the 29-year-old’s amazing determination and skill. And the only operative word we have for Cody is . . . awesome.

Back when he was 18 years old, Cody was involved in a four-wheeler accident that severed spinal nerves responsible for control and function of his left arm and hand. Although Cody underwent 12-hours of surgery to remove nerves from other areas of his body to repair his damaged arm, the damage was too extensive and the arm could not be repaired. With no other options, Cody was encouraged to remain positive.  Maybe someday, new technology would make repairs possible.

In the meantime, Cody moved forward with his life and six years ago he was hired as a motor grader operator by McCulloch County, Precinct 3.

“It was challenging at first, but Cody picked it up pretty fast,” said McCulloch County Commissioner Jim Ross. The motor grader he operates for the county has eight controls and a steering wheel.  What most people learn to do with both arms, Cody accomplishes quite well with only one.

During recent proficiency training delivered by Billy Williams of TEEX, Cody was required to demonstrate motor grader proficiency on the Caterpillar® 140M3 motor grader.  This piece of equipment has two control joysticks; one used to steer the equipment; the other to control the blade movements. In addition to the Cat® 140M3, Cody proficiently operates the John Deere® 670-6 motor grader, as well as loaders, skid steers, dump trucks, and bulldozers.

After completing training, Cody’s supervisor praised him for “having a great attitude and for always going above and beyond the call of duty.” In return, Cody says, “I’m grateful to McCulloch County for giving me the opportunity to work for them.”

Now that’s what we call “Making the Grade.”

Learn more about TEEX Heavy Equipment Training.

By Guy Benson, a member of the Business Development & Marketing Department of TEEX’s Infrastructure and Safety Training Institute.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Caring for Bentley after Ebola exposure

When nurse Nina Pham contracted the Ebola virus and was hospitalized for treatment last October, her canine companion, Bentley, came into the care of Dallas Animal Services. This presented the city with a rare situation in which a veterinary patient was also a potential source of a contagion, essentially a hazardous material, and veterinary staff had to take protective precautions far beyond their normal experience with personal protective equipment, or PPE.

With no procedures in place to draw on for best practices, they called on the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (TAMU VET) to provide some expert assistance. Dr. Debra Zoran and Dr. Wesley Bissett from TAMU VET supported the staff charged with Bentley’s medical monitoring. TEEX hazardous materials specialists Ron Batchelor and Lori Peace consulted with the veterinarians regarding safety, site assessment, procedures and best practices for handling potential contaminants, as well as providing decontamination support for the dog’s caregivers.

Dallas Animal Services obtained a vacant officers’ quarters building at Hensley Field, a part of the Dallas Naval Air Station. Bentley took up residence in a back room that was draped with tarps and contained a crate filled with soft materials, toys and food. The veterinary staff made entry to Bentley’s room (the hot zone) several times each day to ensure his physical and psychological health.

Throughout the quarantine, Bentley, a King Charles Spaniel, learned the daily routine and looked forward to his time engaging with the veterinarians. Playful and well-mannered, Bentley identified his favorite toys and kept them near. He remained pleasant and cooperative when blood samples were taken, making the veterinary medical care process very smooth.

Caring for Bentley while wearing chemical protective suits and PAPRs (Powered Air Purifying Respirators) presented some challenges and adaptations in PPE for the veterinary staff. All activities were planned and double-checked prior to entry into Bentley’s quarters. To ensure the highest degree of safety, several additional measures were applied and a sound standard operating procedure (SOP) was developed regarding entry, management of waste, invasive care procedures, management of samples, and decontamination.

After his 21-day quarantine, Bentley was pronounced Ebola-free and happily reunited with Nina in November.

Thanks to the dedicated staff from Dallas Animal Services and some practical assistance from TEEX and TAMU VET, Bentley’s quarantine was a comprehensive, safe, and functional operation – and, most importantly, there are now procedures in place to manage future events of this nature.

You can read more about Ebola and Pets and Bentley's stay with Drs Zoran and Bissett from TAMU VET's website. 

UPDATE: Nina Pham and Bentley visited College Station April 24, 2015 and thanked Dr. Zoran and Dr. Bissett of the TAMU VET team for all of their help in taking care of Bentley and making sure he stayed safe and sound. Video from KBTX Media
~ By Lori Peace, Hazardous Materials Training Specialist for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). Peace also serves as Training Officer for the TX-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) command staff. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Online Firefighter Recruit Academy - 'Excellent Program'

I want to share with you my recent experience with a TEEX course, ORT300 for NFPA 1001 Firefighter I & II along with HAZMAT. I was a volunteer firefighter and have been dreaming of serving as a full-time firefighter for a long time. Taking 2 years off of work to be able to take a traditional Canadian course unfortunately was not an option for me. I am married and have a daughter, so I was not able to put my family on hold for two years without income.

When I learned about the TEEX online/boot camp course, I found it to be an excellent way for me to get my NFPA 1001 Firefighter I & II.

Online Training

The online course was excellent! Having a background in firefighting, I found it both appealing for someone with some background as well as covering the basics for students starting from scratch. The videos and questions were excellent as well as the online forum postings.

One of my concerns taking this course was that I was going to be studying after work and weekends. I was worried about not being able to get help during those hours. I found out that I couldn’t have been more wrong! All the way through the online course, I was blown away by the support I received from the instructors. Mr. Jason Loyd’s help was amazing! Every time I had a question, he was there to help, it didn’t matter the time.

Mr. Rhett Filburn also offered his help with any questions and a great building assignment as well as help with knots. He also responded promptly to emails and any questions I had. Mr. Benjamin Miller also helped me out with HAZMAT questions I had and also helped me stay on track with physical fitness guides and updates. All in all, the support I received during the online course was more than I expected. The instructors were available and encouraged any questions or feedback.

Boot Camp

After completing the online course I then arrived in College Station, TX, for my 21-day boot camp. The first thing I noticed was that the facilities, from the washrooms all the way to equipment storage, everything was clean, well-maintained and in excellent condition!

I will break up my boot camp review in 4 sections: Physical Training, HAZMAT, Firefighter I & II and Instructors.

Physical Training

The physical training was excellent! I never thought I could be pushed that hard. The encouragement from the instructors was great. The fitness exercises were geared around firefighting, like climbing the tower, controlling your breathing, etc. I also found that the team-building was a great part of it. As much as they pushed us, they had a great program for students that were injured. They pushed me to my limits but never pushed me to do something I was unable to do. Stretching before and after every PT session was great! Excellent program!


In my opinion, HAZMAT is a tough subject to teach. There is a lot of material to cover and in the short amount of time that we had, it was well covered and the instructors were excellent! The hands-on portion was realistic, and I learned a lot from it. The exam portion was very well organized and well thought-out. There were a lot of us, and it flowed really well. I did have to get help with the HAZMAT PPE section of my testing and the after-hours help was excellent! Great job on the HAZMAT portion!

Firefighter I & II

When I found out the number of people that were attending this course, my first thought was that I was not going to get the one-on-one time with instructors I would have got if I was in a smaller group. Boy, was I wrong! The course was well-planned and every training session I attended was excellent! The training materials were great! Everything from bunker drills, ladder training, live-fire training was done safely and professionally. I have nothing but great memories and learned so much from this course. The intensity and flow of the course was amazing. I ran into a couple of minor issues with my SCBA and they were resolved by the next morning. I cannot say enough good things about the training! Excellent job!


I wish I had a list of all the instructors’ names to be able to personally thank each one of them.  The instructors taught not only firefighting, but also taught by example. Every one of the instructors showed passion and professionalism. They were approachable, friendly and led by example! I can’t say enough about the group of instructors we had! They encouraged us, offered extra help after hours, showed us different ways to do things, shared personal experiences and their passion was contagious!

I never had a day where I had an instructor that gave me the impression that they “had to be there.” I have been to firefighter course in the past where the content was great, but the instructors gave the impression that they were looking forward to the end of the day; but with the amount of hours we had, I always saw 100% effort with every instructor.

TEEX should be proud of the team of instructors they have! Chief Loyd, Buford, Deemer, Filburn, Stewart, Miller, Seaback, Dugan, Hindman, Carsey, Ford, York, Connor and all the ones I missed: these guys are top-notch and are excellent role models and instructors I am thankful I had the chance to meet and learn from! Instructors can make or break a course and they sure made this course an excellent one! Excellent job, guys!

In conclusion, I want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to get my certification. I would not have been able to do this with a traditional course.  I will make sure I represent the TEEX name with pride when one day I serve full-time as a firefighter, in part, thanks to TEEX. I would recommend this course to anyone!

by Joel Woods of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada. Woods, 35, completed the TEEX Online Firefighter Recruit Academy, held Sept. 2 - Dec. 22, 2014, and is now a certified firefighter.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Daniel Velarde: Continuing the path of service

Service, Commitment and Leadership: These three values are integral pieces of Daniel Velarde’s personal and professional life. Throughout his 20-year military career to his second career in safety training, Daniel has always been ready to learn. Multiple training opportunities, culminating with the TEEX Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) program, have been a natural step for someone dedicated to serving others.

During his 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, which included deployments to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, he worked in a civil engineering group as Heavy Equipment Operator and then Heavy Equipment Crew Leader. Velarde’s commitment to leadership propelled him to a role as a training leader and unit safety officer where he trained office personnel on safety and risk management.

He studied to become a paralegal, which led to opportunities with the Judge Advocate General Corps, where he eventually managed a legal office. Then he was tapped to establish a new Environmental Law Field Support Center in San Antonio, serving both as an office manager and a paralegal for complex environmental litigation.

On Flag Day, June 14, 2013, Velarde celebrated his Retirement Ceremony in San Antonio.  One month later, he found out about TEEX from a friend, who knew of his interest in the environmental field and his background in law and policy.

“I learned that TEEX offers a program for veterans, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I had met the requirements of serving honorably, and the GI benefits application was fairly simple. I reached Steve Robinson, the Veteran’s Liaison for TEEX, who pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to get started with TEEX training courses right away.”

As a student in the CSHO fast-track program, Velarde attended courses at several different TEEX campuses -- including San Antonio, Austin, and Mesquite. During this time, he completed the OSHA Train-the-Trainer General Industry safety and health outreach program, as well as the Train-the-Trainer Construction Industry course.

In addition to General Industry and Construction courses, he gained professional training in PEC Safeland Safe Gulf, Medic First Aid Adult and Infant CPR, Aerial Working Platform, Forklift train-the-trainer, Fall Protection, Confined Space, and Hydrogen Sulfide. He accumulated about 426 credit hours in less than six months. The TEEX program not only helped him improve his safety training knowledge, he said, but also helped him to acquire better teaching and communications skills, and improved reporting methods.

Velarde was already receiving job offers, but wanted to complete his training in order to gain the most knowledge. This commitment to excellence also paid off – upon finishing his coursework, he did find the right job. His years of military service, combined with the recognized TEEX CSHO classes helped him to land a great job and negotiate his salary.

“The training provided that leverage, and helped me to become a strong candidate,” said Daniel. “I truly feel that TEEX helped me make a name for myself and become established.”

Initially he was hired by ENERGES Oilfield Solutions dba Mesa Safety Services, where he worked with oil and gas clients in Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Then in December 2014, he started his own company, The Safe-Way Training Company (TSWTC, Inc.) based out of San Antonio, and continues third-party consulting for Mesa Safety Services.

His values of service, commitment, and leadership continue to shine through, and the CSHO courses offered by TEEX have helped him continue to serve others by sharing the importance of safety, and ultimately, saving lives.

By Alison Sawyer, Communication Specialist
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service