CERT or a Community Emergency Response Team is a group of people organized as a neighborhood-based team that receives special training to enhance their ability to recognize, respond to, and recover from a major emergency or disaster situation.
Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demands for these services. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages will prevent citizens from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice. Family members, fellow employees, and neighbors will have to rely on one another for assistance in order to meet their immediate lifesaving and life sustaining needs.
Following the Mexico City earthquake untrained, spontaneous volunteers saved 800 people. Yet, 100 persons lost their lives while attempting to save others — a very high price to pay.
However, the loss of life is preventable through CERT training. We know that following a major disaster there are two realities: 1) emergency services will not meet the immediate needs of the people affected and 2) people will volunteer spontaneously. Therefore, we must train our citizens on how to keep themselves safe while assisting others. CERT training accomplishes this through four major steps:
- Educate citizens on what to expect regarding immediate services following a major disaster.
- Emphasize citizens’ responsibility for preparedness and lessening the aftermath of a disaster.
- Train citizens in needed life-saving skills with emphasis on decision making and rescuer safety.
- Organize citizen teams to become extensions of first responder services, i.e., citizen teams that will provide immediate help to victims until professional services arrive.
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees.
The training program that LAFD initiated makes good sense and furthers the process of citizens understanding their responsibility in preparing for disaster. It also increases their ability to safely help themselves, their family and their neighbors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials believing them applicable to all hazards.
CERT training will benefit any citizen who participates in the course. The CERT trained individual will be better prepared to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business, and government teams auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. In 1993, FEMA began offering CERT Training nationally. Currently, communities in 28 States and Puerto Rico are conducting CERT training.