What Is CERT? (CERT) The Community Emergency Response Team program helps train people to be better prepared to respond to emergency situations in their communities. When emergencies happen, CERT members can give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site. CERT members can also help with non-emergency projects that help improve the safety of the community. The CERT course is taught in the community by a trained team of first responders who have completed a CERT Train-the-Trainer course conducted by their state training office for emergency management, or FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI), located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. CERT training includes disaster preparedness, small fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, and light search and rescue operations.
Q: Why take the CERT training? A: Local government prepares for everyday emergencies. However, there are emergencies and disaster that can overwhelm the community’s immediate response capability. While adjacent jurisdictions, State and Federal resources can activate to help, that help may be delayed. The primary reason for CERT training is to give people the decision-making and physical skills to offer immediate assistance to family members, neighbors, and associates. While people will respond to others in need without the training, the goal of the CERT program is to help them do so effectively and efficiently without placing themselves in unnecessary danger. A success story about CERTs comes during the wildfires in Florida. The Edgewater CERT helped emergency management and the fire department by assisting with evacuations, handling donations, preparing food for firefighters, and answering the phone while the professionals were fighting the fire. It is a great example of CERT members and response personnel working together for the benefit of the community.
Q: How do CERT members maintain their skills? A: CERT members and the sponsoring agency work together to maintain team skills. It is suggested that the sponsor conduct refresher classes and an annual exercise where all CERT members are invited to participate. Some response agencies have conducted joint exercises with CERTs and operate as they would during an actual disaster. The last point does bring up a lesson learned. Besides training CERT members, it is also important to train members of response agencies about CERTs, the skills that teams have and the role that they will have during a major disaster. Understanding that CERTs may operate independently following a disaster, CERTs can practice this independence by taking some responsibility for their training. Teams can design activities and exercises for themselves and with other teams.
Q: What if I want to do more than just the basic training? A: CERT programs may also offer supplemental training according to community needs. Additional training may include:
CERT Animal Response
CERT Emergency Communications
CERT Tools for Leadership Success
CERT Traffic and Crowd Management
CERT Firefighter Rehab
CERT members might help with special projects like distributing preparedness material, or taking disaster shelter operations training.
Q: When and How did CERT start? A: 1985. The idea to train volunteers from the community to assist emergency service personnel during large natural disasters began. In February of 1985, a group of Los Angeles City officials went to Japan to study its extensive earthquake preparedness plans. The group encountered an extremely homogenous society that had taken extensive steps to train entire neighborhoods in one aspect of alleviating the potential devastation that would follow a major earthquake. These single-function neighborhood teams were trained in fire suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid, or evacuation. In September of 1985, a Los Angeles City investigation team was sent to Mexico City following an earthquake there that registered a magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale and killed more than 10,000 people and injured more than 30,000. Mexico City had no training program for citizens prior to the disaster. However, large groups of volunteers organized themselves and performed light search and rescue operations. Volunteers are credited with more than 800 successful rescues; unfortunately, more than 100 of these untrained volunteers died during the 15-day rescue operation. The lessons learned in Mexico City strongly indicated that a plan to train volunteers to help themselves and others, and become an adjunct to government response, was needed as an essential part of overall preparedness, survival, and recovery.
1986: The City of Los Angeles Fire Department developed a pilot program to train a group of leaders in a neighborhood watch organization. A concept developed involving multi-functional volunteer response teams with the ability to perform basic fire suppression, light search and rescue, and first aid. This first team of 30 people completed training in early 1986 and proved that the concept was viable through various drills, demonstrations, and exercises. Expansion of the program, however, was not feasible due to limited City resources, until an event occurred in 1987 that impacted the entire area.
1987: On October 1, 1987, the Whittier Narrows earthquake vividly underscored the threat of an area-wide major disaster, and demonstrated the need to expedite the training of civilians to prepare for earthquakes and other emergencies. Following the Whittier Narrows earthquake, the City of Los Angeles took an aggressive role in protecting the citizens of Los Angeles by creating the Disaster Preparedness Division (now the Disaster Preparedness Unit) within the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Their objectives included:
Educate and train the public and government sectors in disaster preparedness research
Evaluate, and disseminate disaster information
Develop, train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs)
1993: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make the concept and program available to communities nationwide. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in cooperation with the LAFD, expanded the CERT materials to make them applicable to all hazards.
2002: In January 2002, CERT became part of the Citizen Corps, a unifying structure to link a variety of related volunteer activities to expand a community’s resources for crime prevention and emergency response.
2004: As of January 2004, 50 states, three territories and six foreign countries are using the CERT training.