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Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
What is CERT?
The Community Emergency Response Team
(CERT) Program educates people about
disaster preparedness for hazards that may
impact their area and trains them in basic
disaster response skills, such as fire safety,
light search and rescue, team organization,
and disaster medical operations. Using the
training learned in the classroom and during
exercises, CERT members can assist others in
their neighborhood or workplace following an
event when professional responders are not
immediately available to help. CERT members
also are encouraged to support emergency
response agencies by taking a more active
role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.
What more can you tell me about CERT?
Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to
meet the demand for these services. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures, and
road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at
a moment's notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their
immediate life saving and life sustaining needs.One also expects that under these kinds of
conditions, family members, fellow employees, and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each
other. This was the case following the Mexico City earthquake where untrained, spontaneous
volunteers saved 800 people. However, 100 people lost their lives while attempting to save others.
This is a high price to pay and is preventable through training.
If we can predict that emergency services will not meet immediate needs following a major disaster,
especially if there is no warning as in an earthquake, and people will spontaneously volunteer, what
can government do to prepare citizens for this eventuality?
First, present citizens the facts about what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate
services. Second, give the message about their responsibility for mitigation and preparedness. Third,
train them in needed life saving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescue safety, and
doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Fourth, organize teams so that they are an
extension of first responder services offering immediate help to victims until professional services
How did the CERT program get started?
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.
The CERT course will benefit any citizen who takes it. This 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 that, in essence, will be 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. Since
1993 when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities in 28 States and
Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training.
How is the course presented?
The CERT course is delivered in the community by a team of first responders/certified trainers who
have the requisite knowledge and skills to instruct the sessions. It is suggested that the instructors
complete a CERT Train-the-Trainer (TTT) conducted by their State Training Office for Emergency
Management or the Emergency Management Institute in order to learn the training techniques that
are used successfully by the LAFD.
The CERT training for community groups is usually delivered in 2 1/2 hour sessions, one evening a
week over a 7 week period. The training consists of the following:
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Addresses hazards to which people are vulnerable in their
community. Materials cover actions that participants and their families take before, during, and after
a disaster. As the session progresses, the instructor begins to explore an expanded role for civilians
in that they will want to help their family members and neighbors, this training can help them operate
in a safe and appropriate manner. The CERT concept and organization are discussed as well as
applicable laws governing volunteers in that jurisdiction.
DISASTER FIRE SUPPRESSION: Briefly covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards,
and fire suppression strategies. However, the thrust of this session is the safe use of fire
extinguishers, sizing up the situation, controlling utilities, and extinguishing a small fire.
DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS PART I: Participants practice triage, treating airway
obstruction, bleeding, and shock by using simple triage methods and rapid treatment techniques.
DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS, PART II: Covers evaluating patients by doing a head to toe
assessment, establishing a medical treatment area, performing basic first aid, and practicing in a
safe and sanitary manner.
LIGHT SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS: Participants learn about search and rescue
planning, size-up, search techniques, rescue techniques, and most important, rescuer safety.
DISASTER PSYCHOLOGY AND TEAM ORGANIZATION: Covers signs and symptoms that might
be experienced by the disaster victim and worker. It addresses CERT organization and
management principles and the need for documentation.
COURSE REVIEW AND DISASTER SIMULATION: Participants review their answers from a take
home examination. Finally, they practice the skills that they have learned during the previous six
sessions in disaster activity.