Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)
A CERT 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. Teams are trained by professional responders in areas that will help them take care of themselves and others before, during and after a major emergency. As an organized team, individuals can provide vital services in the absence of and while waiting for the arrival of emergency responders, and they often assist once responders arrive.
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. The department recognized that citizens would very likely be on their own during the early stages of a catastrophic disaster and that, with some basic training in disaster survival and rescue skills, they would be better able to survive and help others until responders or other assistance could arrive.
More recently, East Coast cities have recognized the success of the CERT concept and have trained teams to meet local challenges. Many coastal communities, particularly in hurricane-prone areas, have already trained thousands of people. CERT training has proven so beneficial that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recommended that CERT training be done nationwide. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in cooperation with the Los Angeles Fire Department, has expanded CERT materials and made them applicable for all contemporary hazards.
In Arlington County
Arlington has always had an all-disasters approach to emergencies. Among the more likely emergencies in our county are fires and weather-related situations such as winter storms and tornadoes.
In addition, the events of September 11, 2001 made it abundantly clear that the resources of our public safety departments could become overwhelmed in a disaster. Citizens wanted to help and it quickly became apparent that the most helpful volunteers were those with some level of disaster-relief training. Thus emerged the concept of the first all-disaster, neighborhood-based CERTs in northern Virginia. The goal is to have a CERT in every Arlington neighborhood.
Anyone who lives in Arlington can apply for CERT training. CERTs can be created within already organized groups. Some examples are:
- Neighborhood Groups
- Civic Associations
- Homeowner/Condo/Townhouse Associations
- Business Groups
- Neighborhood Watch organizations
- Faith-Based Groups
Arlington has trained several neighborhood teams and will continue building on that base. As new people are trained, they are referred to existing teams. As existing teams grow, they may choose to divide into smaller neighborhoods.
Trainees become full CERT members upon completion of all class sessions and a drill/practical exam, including eight classes over a six-week period, taught by local emergency response/management personnel. Each class is approximately 2 ½ hours and reading assignments are given at the end of each class. Also included are practical, table-top and team-building exercises.
Areas of training include:
- Disaster Threats in Arlington County
- Personal and Family Preparation and Safety
- Recognizing and Treating Life-Threatening and Non-Life-Threatening Emergencies
- Triage and Treatment Area Management
- Incident Command System
- Disaster Psychology
- Fire Safety Techniques
- Light Search and Rescue Operations
The final session includes a practical exam comprised of a set of disaster simulations to give trainees the ability to apply their newly acquired skills in a semi-realistic environment. Continuing and advanced education is available for interested graduates.
CERT members are expected to acquire certain supplies in addition to those that should be on hand in every household. A list of supplies is provided at the first CERT class. As some are provided by the county, students should not purchase them before that time.
Prior to an emergency, CERT members are expected to have an awareness of their own neighborhoods, and to pre-determine possible evacuation sites that will facilitate effective, safe and rapid response to emergencies.
During a major emergency, where first responders are unable to respond immediately, CERT team members:
- Assume a leadership role
- Assess situations and properly advise emergency responders when they arrive
- Recognize the potential hazards associated with a particular type of event and take appropriate action
- Take steps to get to safety and/or help others to do so in an organized fashion
- Help identify staging areas for operations and triage
- Help identify, organize and utilize local resources
- Assist others with the emotional distress associated with major emergencies and disaster conditions
- Administer first aid and/or triage casualties
- Perform needs assessments, document and communicate needs to local authorities
- Support effective and efficient allocation of emergency resources
CERT members are activated:
- By an authorized Arlington County agency
- By themselves in the event of a major disaster where first responders are delayed or unable to respond (but only after attempting to alert emergency personnel)
Those who complete the CERT training are expected to:
- Help prepare individuals and organizations in the neighborhood to take care of themselves in the event of a disaster by providing or facilitating education about emergency preparedness
- Be willing to help neighbors and the community in the event of a disaster, after assuring self and family safety
- Seek out and take advantage of opportunities to enhance emergency preparedness and disaster skills
- Be willing to participate in community events, drills and training others
- Participate in periodic team meetings to organize and maintain activities
CERT in Other Communities
Below is a selection of helpful CERT websites.
- https://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/- FEMA transferred the CERT website content to this new CERT/Citizen Corps site.
- http://www.vaemergency.com– The Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s website provides current information regarding grants, training and disaster preparedness.
- http://www.virginiacorps.org– The Virginia Corps website links you to information regarding Citizen Corps Councils, CERT programs, etc.
- http://www.cert-la.com– The Los Angeles CERT website provides lots of information, as well as links to CERTs all around the US. It’s probably the most comprehensive CERT website out there.
- http://www.rbcertaa.org– The Redondo Beach, CA CERT webpage has many great links including a newsletter
- http://www.naem.com/connection.html– This website contains articles about CERT programs around the country.