Community emergency response team

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Community Emergency Response Team
Parent organizationCitizen Corps
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Community Emergency Response Team
Parent organizationCitizen Corps

In the United States a community emergency response team (CERT) can refer to

Sometimes programs and organizations take different names, such as neighborhood emergency response team (NERT), or neighborhood emergency team (NET).

The concept of civilian auxiliaries is similar to civil defense, which has a longer history. The CERT concept differs because it includes nonmilitary emergencies, and is coordinated with all levels of emergency authorities, local to national, via an overarching incident command system.



The concept of widespread local volunteer emergency responders was implemented and developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987 showed the need for preparing citizens to take care of themselves and their loved ones after a disaster.[1]

In the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, residents of San Francisco's Marina District help run lengths of fire hose from a fireboat to firefighters ashore after the hydrant system failed. Later, the Fire Department worked with the community to form the City's NERT program (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team).[2]

By 1993, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had made the program available nationwide; by 2012, CERT programs were offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. [3]

CERT and Citizen Corps were transferred to the Office of Domestic Preparedness (now the Office of Grants and Training) in August 2004.

CERT Organization

A local government agency, often a fire department or emergency management agency, agrees to sponsor CERT within its jurisdiction. The sponsoring agency liases with, deploys and may train or supervise the training of CERT members. The sponsoring agency receives and disburses federal and state Citizen Corps grant funds allocated to its CERT program. Many sponsoring agencies employ a full-time community-service person as liaison to the CERT members. In some communities, the liaison is a volunteer and CERT member.

As people are trained and agree to join the community emergency response effort, a CERT is formed. Initial efforts may result in a team with only a few members from across the community. As the number of members grow, a single community-wide team may subdivide. Multiple CERTs are organized into a hierarchy of teams consistent with ICS principles. This follows the Incident Command System (ICS) principle of Span of control until the ideal distribution is achieved: one or more teams are formed at each neighborhood within a community.

Some CERTs form a club or service corporation, and recruit volunteers to perform training on behalf of the sponsoring agency. This reduces the financial and human resource burden on the sponsoring agency.

When not responding to disasters, CERTs may

Some sponsoring agencies use Citizen Corps grant funds to purchase response tools and equipment for their members and team(s) (subject to Stafford Act limitations). Most CERTs also acquire their own supplies, tools, and equipment. As community members, CERTs are aware of the specific needs of their community and equip the teams accordingly.

CERT Response

The basic idea is to use CERT to perform the large number of tasks needed in emergencies. This frees highly trained professional responders for more technical tasks. Much of CERT training concerns the Incident Command System and organization, so CERT members fit easily into larger command structures.

A team may self-activate (self-deploy) when their own neighborhood is affected by disaster. An effort is made to report their response status to the sponsoring agency. A self-activated team will size-up the loss in their neighborhood and begin performing the skills they have learned to minimize further loss of life, property, and environment. They will continue to respond safely until redirected or relieved by the sponsoring agency or professional responders on-scene.

Teams in neighborhoods not affected by disaster may be deployed or activated by the sponsoring agency. The sponsoring agency may communicate with neighborhood CERT leaders through an organic communication team. In some areas the communications may be by amateur radio, FRS, GMRS or MURS radio, dedicated telephone or fire-alarm networks. In other areas, relays of bicycle-equipped runners can effectively carry mail between the teams and the local emergency operations center.

The sponsoring agency may activate and dispatch teams in order to gather or respond to intelligence about an incident. Teams may be dispatched to affected neighborhoods, or organized to support operations. CERT members may augment support staff at an Incident Command Post or Emergency Operations Center. Additional teams may also be created to guard the morgue, locate supplies and food, convey messages to and from other CERT teams and local authorities, and other duties on an as-needed basis as identified by the team leader.

In the short term, CERTs perform data gathering, especially to locate mass-casualties requiring professional response, or situations requiring professional rescues, simple fire-fighting tasks (for example, small fires, turning off gas), light search and rescue, damage evaluation of structures, triage and first aid. In the longer term, CERTs may assist in the evacuation of residents, or assist with setting up a neighborhood shelter.

While responding, CERT members are temporary volunteer government workers. In some areas, (such as California and Kansas) registered, activated CERT members are eligible for worker's compensation for on-the-job injuries during declared disasters.

CERT Team Member Roles

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that the standard, ten-person team be comprised as follows:

Because every CERT member in a community receives the same core instruction, any team member has the training necessary to assume any of these roles. This is important during a disaster response because not all members of a regular team may be available to respond. Hasty teams may be formed by whichever members are responding at the time. Additionally, members may need to adjust team roles due to stress, fatigue, injury, or other circumstances.

CERT Training

While state and local jurisdictions will implement training in the manner that best suits the community, the Citizen Corps CERT program has an established curriculum. Jurisdictions may augment the training, but are strongly encouraged to deliver the entire core content. The Citizen Corps CERT core curriculum for the basic course is composed of the following nine units (time is instructional hours):

Citizen Corps CERT training emphasizes safely 'doing the most good for the most people as quickly as possible' when responding to a disaster. For this reason, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training is not included in the core curriculum, as it is time- and responder-intensive. However, many jurisdictions encourage or require CERT members to obtain CPR training.

Each unit of Citizen Corps CERT training is ideally delivered by professional responders or other experts in the field addressed by the unit. This is done to help build unity between CERT members and responders, keep the attention of students, and help the professional response organizations be comfortable with the training which CERT members receive.

Each course of instruction is ideally facilitated by one or more instructors certified in the CERT curriculum by the state or sponsoring agency. Facilitating instructors provide continuity between units, and help ensure that the CERT core curriculum is being delivered successfully. Facilitating instructors also perform set-up and tear-down of the classroom, provide instructional materials for the course, record student attendance and other tasks which assist the professional responder in delivering their unit as efficiently as possible.

Citizen Corps CERT training is provided free to interested members of the community, and is delivered in a group classroom setting. People may complete the training without obligation to join a CERT. Citizen Corps grant funds can be used to print and provide each student with a printed manual. Some sponsoring agencies use Citizen Corps grant funds to purchase disaster response tool kits. These kits are offered as an incentive to join a CERT, and must be returned to the sponsoring agency when members resign from CERT.

Because uniformed volunteer disaster responders are accorded a higher level of trust than unaffiliated volunteers when responding in a disaster, many sponsoring agencies require a criminal background-check of all trainees before allowing them to participate on a CERT.

The Citizen Corps CERT curriculum (including the Train-the-Trainer course) was updated during the last half of 2008 to reflect feedback from instructors across the nation. The update is in final review, and is scheduled for release during the first quarter of 2009.

More information: Starting and Maintaining a CERT Organization: Resource Center.

See also

External links