COMMUNITY EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM (CERT) PROGRAM
Emergencies and disasters have a way of happening unexpectedly or with little to no warning. In a major disaster, like an earthquake or a catastrophic flood, help may not arrive for hours or several days – leaving those affected by the disaster to fend for themselves.
Being prepared for disasters is a vital key to surviving and building resiliency for the “next time” a disaster occurs. Being prepared for disasters is the goal of the national CERT Program.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area. CERT trains individuals in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, how to work together as a team, and the basics of disaster medical operations.
Using their training, CERT members can help themselves, their families, and others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders may not be immediately available to help.
The idea for a community disaster response team was initiated by the Los Angeles City Fire Department during the late 1980s. Los Angeles city officials went to Japan and Mexico City to study how each country had responded to major earthquakes. Those experiences, along with the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, emphasized the need for having trained civilians who could take care of themselves, their family, and their neighbors after a major disaster.
The idea went national when the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted the concept and expanded the CERT model to all hazards.
CERT volunteers are taught basic first-aid and disaster response skills. They do not replace professional first responders, but they can provide vital assistance during a disaster response. CERT volunteers may be called upon to provide immediate help to victims, to organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had appropriate training, or to collect important information about a disaster so that professional responders can prioritize their actions and resources.
When not responding to disasters, CERT volunteers may:
Recently, Austin CERT volunteers assisted the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) with an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) exercise. The exercise taught the volunteers how an EOC operates and how they can assist with logistics and other efforts.
The exercise also helped TDEM professionals understand the benefits of having volunteers assist with disaster response. It was a win-win for all concerned.
Any community can set up a CERT Program to bolster its disaster response capabilities and to enhance community resiliency.