Thursday, December 22, 2016

Burglar-Proof Your Home #1: Tips

Photo by Lillang
Can you make your home burglar-proof? No. There’s no such thing as making your home totally burglar-proof; however, you can make it so much harder for a burglar to get into your house so that they’ll move on. Plain and simple, about every 14.6 seconds a home is broken into in the United States. Interestingly enough, they can get in through windows; they can get in through doors; but one-third of all burglaries are because they go in through an unlocked door. We forget to lock our doors sometimes and become somewhat complacent.

Our focus is to talk about how to make it a little bit harder to for someone to get into your home so they’ll go on and find a much easier target.

We want to make sure that our normal living patterns continue while we're gone, and that we don’t have something that looks unusual occur for three or four days at a time. A lot of the time these are opportunist burglaries, but it also may be people that have been watching your home for a couple of days and have figured out that you're gone.

There are a lot of things that we can do to make our houses look like we’re still there. First of all, one of things we don’t want to do is to continue to establish patterns that let other people know when we’re not home. For example:

Photo by Yew Tree House
  1. Lights: If our lights go on at night and go off in the morning, then we want to make sure they continue that pattern versus on twenty four hours a day. Use lamps with timers to turn lights on during the hours you're normally up and turn them off when you normally sleep.
  2. Television: Most of the televisions these days have programming so that you can have them turn on at certain times and off at certain times. Set your television so that it will turn on during the time that you would normally be watching and turn it off when you would normally go to bed.
  3. Yard: If it’s the season when the yard is growing pretty fast, then you want to see to it that the yard gets mowed pretty regularly. One of the signs that people look for is a yard that’s normally meticulously manicured suddenly becoming overgrown. This can be an indicator that we're gone, maybe for a few days of vacation or even a week or two.
  4. Trash Cans: We also want to consider our trash cans. Are they in the normal place? Are they out on trash days? Are they back in instead of being out two or three days at a time?
  5. Mail, newspapers, and package deliveries: We also want to think about our mail delivery. We need to make sure that: 
    1. First, the mail box isn’t full and that anything like Amazon packages that get delivered to the home is quickly put away and is out of sight, out of mind. 
    2. Second, talk to your neighbors, letting them know that you’re going to be gone.
  6. Vehicles: Another thing we want to look at its cars in the driveway. If I tend to leave my car in the driveway all the time when I’m home and it’s gone with me to work during the day, that starts to establish a pattern that people can watch. If that car is suddenly parked in the driveway for a week, they may start to sense that I'm either not going to work or I may even be out of town. 

Photo from

With holiday and vacation time coming soon, there's no better time to use these tips to protect your home and have a safe and happy getaway!

Watch the first video in our new YouTube series on How to Burglar Proof Your Home.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

National Unmanned Aircraft Systems Credentialing Program

As more industries use unmanned air crafts such as drones to inspect facilities, land and infrastructure, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi developed a program called the National Unmanned Aircraft Systems Credentialing Program (NUASCP) to improve the safety of the skies.


This program is tailored for U.S. commercial
service providers and public safety organizations utilizing small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) who have obtained a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate in the national airspace system. Four companies have successfully completed this program, with the most recent company being Precision Aerial Compliance Solutions, located in Conroe, TX. Precision Aerial Compliance Solutions LLC is an aerial data collection and inspection service dedicated to providing their clients with a safe, cost-effective, and efficient way to gather actionable data for their business.

“Precision Aerial is pleased to be a member of this elite group of UAS operators who have graduated from the NUASCP,” said Scott McGowan, CEO of Precision Aerial Compliance Solutions. “This program's certification gives our current, as well as potential clients, a more informative way to make choices in using and integrating UAS service companies and their capabilities into their own business operations. Safety and professionalism are the key factors in hiring a potential UAS operator and this program makes that process easier by doing a lot of that groundwork for them."

The National sUAS Credentialing Program has been included in at least one Request for Proposals for a large flood control district in Texas.  The district reviewed the baseline program and felt it was a way to have a vetting process for the UAS Service Providers they will be reviewing to award the contract.  This will set apart all others.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration website "by law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. 
Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS)". As of 8/19/2016 there have been 5,542 petitions for exemption have been granted and 1,692 have been denied.

Completion of the voluntary credentialing program enables companies to certify compliance to FAA regulations regarding commercial UAS operations and demonstrate safe flight. The 3rd party vetting of Section 333 requirements includes an oral audit as well as a  live-flight audit with full launch recovery. Operators who complete the program receive a certificate demonstrating their ability to safely and effectively operate Section 333 exempted small UAS in the national airspace. 

Learn more about the National UAS Credentialing Program.

By Steve Williams, Director of Operations and Strategic Development with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.    

Thursday, July 14, 2016

TEEX & SFFMA: Upholding Fire Service Standards

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Emergency Services Training Institute’s (ESTI) main training facility is known as Brayton Fire Training Field (BFTF). Today, this facility is comprised of 296 acres in College Station, Texas, making it the world’s largest, most comprehensive campus for fire responder training in the world. The Brayton Fire Training Field is home of some of the best and most complex training in the country. BFTF’s 132 training props and training stations include a multitude of realistic training props that provide students the means to practice their skills under realistic conditions.

In 1929, the State Firefighters and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas (SFFMA) selected Texas A&M University as the site for a permanent firefighter training school. In 1931, the Texas Legislature authorized the creation of the school by passing House Bill No. 921. This bill authorized the A&M College of Texas (later becoming the Texas A&M University) to create, conduct and maintain the Training School. Though a long-standing relationship between TEEX and the SFFMA, many advancements and accomplishments in the fire service have been achieved. 

This partnership has been instrumental in establishing a baseline of safety and training for thousands of first responders. In FY15, 92,704 students (1,675,485 contact hours) participated in ESTI’s rigorous, hands-on training in Firefighting, Emergency Medical Services, Hazardous Materials, Rescue, Incident Management and other specialized programs both on site and around the world. Staffed by hundreds of experienced instructors, technician and support personnel who represent more than 130 specialty areas, ESTI offers approximately 200 different courses to students from across Texas, the United States, and around the world.

Advances and Benefits

During the past 87 years of TEEX's existence, there have been countless advances in the fire service.  Our main focus continues to be firefighter safety. There has also been a desire to “unify” the fire service.  What is meant by this is people desire training that is quantifiable and measured against existing standards.  Beginning in January 2015, TEEX and the SFFMA formalized a “certification pathway” for SFFMA members based on the NFPA 1001 requirements of Firefighter I & II and NFPA 472 Hazardous Materials Awareness, Operations (PPE & Product Control).  This is a voluntary certification program not meant to penalize, but reward those through the validation of their knowledge and skills.  Through advancements like these, we have moved one step closer to becoming a response community with equal knowledge, capabilities and the passion to succeed.  

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Annual Spanish School.  Participants and Guest Instructors from some 20+ Latin American Countries and US Territories attend training at TEEX’s Brayton Fire Training Field. Dates for this year’s school are July 10-15, 2016.  These participants proudly represent their Countries and the Fire Service as a whole. Three years ago, the Annual Spanish School changed its curriculum to match the SFFMA certification program. This provides an opportunity for SFFMA International Members to quantify their training and become part of this certification process. In addition to the fire-based courses, there are a wide variety of educational opportunities available including: Rescue Training, Hazardous Materials Training, Pump Operations, Marine Fire Fighting, EMS training, Instructor Certification, Incident Command / Incident Management, Incident Safety Officer and other training opportunities.  

To learn more about the Annual Spanish School, please visit the Bomberos pageSFFMA Membership Form.

By Gordon Lohmeyer, Executive Associate Director of the Emergency Services Training Institute at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.        

Friday, June 3, 2016

Oldest, youngest fire academy graduates share love of firefighting and serving others

Separated by space and time, it was the love of firefighting and a desire to serve others that brought together the oldest and youngest graduates of the TEEX Online Recruit Firefighter Academy.

Coming from different countries and different generations, Andrew Makey-Heindl, 18, from Orillia, Ontario, and Neil Summer, 63, from College Station, TX, shared an intense, 21-day hands-on, up-close-and-personal introduction into real-world firefighting and the brotherhood of firefighters during April.

Firefighting has been the goal for Makey-Heindl since he was a youngster, and as an 11th grader, he was able to spend five months at a fire station as part of a school coop program.  He occasionally went on calls with the fire department, and watched the operation from the sidelines. But he couldn’t wait until he could become a firefighter and join the team.  So when he graduated from high school in 2015, he got a job a Home Depot and began researching firefighting academies. TEEX and the Brayton Fire Training Field were at the top of his list. 

“The number of projects and the state-of-the-art facility meant I could get double the hands-on training I would get at home,” he said. 

He will resume his job at Home Depot and begin working as a volunteer firefighter when he returns to Canada.  He plans to begin working toward his EMT-Paramedic certification in the fall.  “My ultimate goal is to work at a fire station in the Greater Toronto Area, but any job in emergency services would be great,” he added.

Summer’s path to the Recruit Firefighter Academy took a bit longer. Originally from South Africa, he left home at 18 to work as a diver in the North Sea, and eventually worked as a geologist in the offshore oil & gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, where he specialized in deepwater geohazards. He was well-acquainted with TEEX and Brayton Fire Training Field through marine firefighting and offshore survival classes he attended in the 1990s. When he lost his job in the oil & gas industry, he saw an opportunity to pursue his firefighter certification. 

Last fall, he began volunteering at the South Brazos Volunteer Fire Department, but realized he needed to be a certified firefighter to fully participate and serve his community. A Director and Founder of Ecolyse, Inc., Summer says this is one way he can “pay back” his community by working as a volunteer firefighter and also with FEMA in emergency response. 

“I am highly impressed with this organization and the instructors. They cram a lot into 21 days,” Summer said. “I took it seriously and have been exercising every day since October.” 

Thanks to his preparation, he said he had no problem with the physical demands of the “boot camp.”

Both Makey-Heindl and Summer would agree:  No matter your age, you can pursue your dream to do something you love.

NOTE: If you are interested in training to become a certified firefighter, you can learn more about the TEEX Firefighter Recruit Academy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cybersecurity: Be Suspicious, Be Smart, and Thwart the Would-Be Hacker

So you have taken steps to strengthen your passwords and verified you have a secure connection before entering your credit card information on store websites. Now you can relax and feel secure about interacting online, right?

Wrong! There are many other ways your information can be stolen. Even your smart phone can be at risk. Here are some tips to keep you cyber safe year-round.

How can I stay safe?

  • Hackers use the internet to go look for openings or chinks in a network system and take advantage of them. They might use malware, viruses, or Trojan programs buried in emails or a website that a user clicks.
  • Ways it can be spread: You can pick up this malware on a smart phone or app that you have installed. If you sync that phone with a work computer, you just might install that malware on your system’s network. That free or found USB drive may have come from an accidentally or deliberately infected source. 
  • Sometimes employees unwittingly disable anti-virus or malware protection, or pressures from business management can lead to a compromise between network security and efficiency that sets the security bar too low.
Year-Round Cybersecurity Tips

1.  Do look a gift horse in the mouth. Only use accessories and apps from trusted sources and manufacturers. USB thumb drives given out as random freebies are not a good deal. Craigslist sources for “free” recycled drives, motherboards, or other computers parts should be avoided.

Unless you know what you are doing and can safely and completely “scrub” these components, you are better off buying new. Any offer that is too good to be true should be avoided. Whether it’s online phishing or physical Trojan horses, free is usually bad.
2.  Be very wary of emails from people you do not know, and any file with an attachment should be viewed as possibly toxic. When in doubt, don’t open it or click on it. Don’t click on links in emails or open files, especially from someone you don’t know or contact frequently. Even if it is someone you know, but it’s an attachment or video that you weren’t expecting or is uncharacteristic of them to send; stop and email and ask them if they sent you something. Don’t use that email’s “reply to” feature; start a new clean email. Or pick up your phone and call.

3.  Stay away from sketchy or rogue websites. When you see the green “Lock” symbol, you have the best odds of reaching a legitimate safe site.

4.  On your smart phone, only use applications from trusted and secure sites. Don’t allow apps to access information they don't need to know. For example, a calorie-counting app should not need access to your location and should not be able to interact with other apps like Facebook or banking apps. The app should not have more permissions than necessary.

5.  Assume anyone who contacts you via phone, text, or internet and asks for identification, sensitive information, or a password is a crook.

6.  Don’t disable or turn down your firewall. Make sure it is on, connected, and regularly updated. Criminals are always looking for new vulnerabilities and opportunities, so you need to stay current.

7.  Make sure your data is backed up to an external hard drive or a secure cloud-based service. Often this is offered as a free perk for your security system/firewall: use it! Set this to happen automatically so you don't even have to think about it. 

For further information about the training TEEX Cybersecurity offers, visit our webpage, and bookmark Stop.Think.Connect.™ for more safety tips and resources.

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.