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.
Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors 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, rescuer 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 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.
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.
Holding a CERT class in your area
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department holds CERT classes several times a year throughout the area it serves. If you would like more information, or would be interested in holding a CERT class in your area, please contact the Department’s Public Education Officer, Mike Eliason at (805) 681-5556 or email at Mike.Eliason@SBCFire.com.
Do you want to make the community safer? For many, the thought of taking a multi-week, 24-hr course doesn’t fit into their busy schedule. To meet the need for those who want to learn, but don’t have the time, we have created CERT Express.
This two-hour class touches on the very basics of the FEMA-based CERT class as well as a few other emergency situations. From how to handle a fire extinguisher, locating your utilities, fire safety, basic first-aid, home/work safety tips, urban-search and rescue, basic triage, active shooter survival, and how to prepare for natural disasters.
This class has proven wildly popular with local businesses, mobile home parks, and HOA’s. You won’t receive the FEMA CERT certificate, but you will learn how to stay calm, think clearly, and act decisively in an emergency.
Contact Mike Eliason at 805-681-5556 or Mike.Eliason@SBCFire.com to schedule a class or learn more.
California’s Service Group of the Year – Santa Barbara County CERT Committee
This award will honor a California service group who has demonstrated an unwavering service commitment to the local community. The Santa Barbara County CERT Committee (SBCCC) brings together Community Emergency Response Teams from throughout the area to share best practices and instill in every resident a culture of preparedness. SBCCC is all-inclusive: every year any member has the opportunity to chair the Committee. Indeed, by coming together under one umbrella, Committee member teams are able to share best practices, standardize regional operations, and make sure that as many county residents as possible become part of the culture of preparedness, standing ready to aid those around them in times of disaster.
This committee has graduated over 3,000 CERT-trained residents within Santa Barbara County. In the last three years, SBCCC has developed relationships with city and county governmental agencies, nonprofits, residents, and representatives of businesses and philanthropic organizations. They care deeply about each and every resident of the county who, due to lack of training, could lose his or her life. To that end, the Committee organized robust outreach to teens and Latinos, to increase their representation in CERT.