Community Emergency Response Team
How Do We Start A CERT Program?
CERT requires a partnership between community members and local government, emergency management and response agencies. The program does take a commitment of time and resources from all parties. Interested community members should discuss with local government and emergency management officials ways to improve their community’s preparedness capability and how they can be involved.
The outcome of these discussions can range from education programs to an active training program like CERT that prepares participants to be part of the community’s response capability following major disasters. It is also important to develop a plan that covers training, maintenance and activation standards as well as administrative requirements like databases and funding.
This plan will act as a guide so that one can evaluate the program and make adjustments. Please note that constant and consistent recruitment are one of the keys to a successful Community Emergency Response Team.
How Is The CERT Funded?
There have been a variety of local approaches to this. Some communities build costs into their budget while others charge participants to cover costs for instructors and course materials. Some states offer grants (through Emergency Management) to communities to get the program started. So, there is no one set way. In a very few communities, CERT organization have formed 501 (C) 3 organization for non-profit status. This allows them to also conduct fund raising.
Who Can Take The Training?
Naturals for the training are neighborhood organizations, communities of faith, school staff, workplace employees and other groups that come together regularly for a common purpose.
Can Someone Under Age 18 Participate?
Again this is a local decision. Someone under 18 should be with a parent. Some communities have reached out specifically to young people. Some high schools offer the training to students. CERT is a great way to address the community service requirements for high school students and provides students with useful skills. CERT also fits nicely with training given to Boy and Girl Scouts and the Civil Air patrol.
What If I Have Concerns About My Age Or Physical Ability?
There are many jobs within a CERT. People are needed for documentation, comforting others, etc. Not everyone is doing physical activity during an exercise or following a disaster. During the training, if one has a concern about doing a skill like lifting, just let the instructor know. You can learn from watching. We would like everyone who wants to go through the training to have an opportunity to participate.
Also, there are many jobs in maintaining the CERT program. People can help by keeping databases, developing a website and newsletter, and organizing activities.
Why Take The CERT Training?
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, there may be a delay for them getting to those who need help.
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.
How Do CERT Members Maintain Their Skills?
CERT members and the sponsor 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 CERT team 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. One way to develop this trust is by encouraging agency personnel to participate in classes as instructors and coaches and activities involving CERTs.
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. Some members can be rescuers, some victims, and some evaluators. After the event, there can be a social so that teams get to know each other.
What If I Want To Do More Than Just The Basic Training?
CERT members may attend classes provided by the community agencies and the Task Force on animal care, special needs concerns, emergency response to terrorism, certified first aid, Automatic External Defibrillator use, bloodborne pathogens, and others.
CERT members are a potential volunteer pool for the community. They can help with special projects like distributing preparedness material, staffing medical booths during special events, and assisting with installation of smoke alarms for seniors or special needs households. Some CERT members have sought additional training opportunities in shelter management, community relations, and more!
What About Liability?
CERT volunteers would be covered under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 as well as any jurisdiction that they work under, should they have an agreement with that jurisdiction. Aside from this, liability insurance policies are available.