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CERT History

The CERT program started in Los Angeles, California before making its journey across the United States and abroad. Officials from LA traveled to Japan in February of 1985 to study its disaster response plans. The team discovered that Japan had extensive training programs that were neighborhood-based, focusing on fire suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid, or evacuation. The LA group traveled to Mexico City following a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people. Although there had been no pre-disaster training, groups of volunteers conducted light search and rescue operations. The volunteers were credited with saving over 800 people, but over 100 volunteers died in the effort.


Having determined that pre-disaster training was a valuable resource for the city, officials began training leaders of neighborhood watches to perform basic fire suppression, light search and rescue, and first aid. This first team of 30 people completed training in early 1986 and proved that the concept was viable through various drills, demonstrations, and exercises.



Following the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake Los Angeles created the Disaster Preparedness Unit within the Fire Department. Their goals were to:


  • Educate and train the public and government sectors in disaster preparedness

  • Research, evaluate, and disseminate disaster information,

  • Develop, train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).


In 1993, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make the concept and program available to communities nationwide. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in cooperation with the LAFD, expanded the CERT materials to make them applicable to all hazards.


The 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.


Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) can refer to an implementation of FEMA's National CERT Program, administered by a local sponsoring agency, which provides a standardized training and implementation framework to community members; or an organization of volunteer emergency workers who have received specific training in basic disaster response skills, and who agree to supplement existing emergency responders in the event of a major disaster.


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.


In 2022 the CERT program moved under FEMA's Community Preparedness umbrella along with the Youth Preparedness Council.


Organization

A local government agency, often a fire department, police department, sheriff’s office or emergency management agency, agrees to sponsor CERT within its jurisdiction. The sponsoring agency liaises with, deploys and may train or supervise the training of CERT members. 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.


A Teen Community Emergency Response Team (TEEN CERT), or Student Emergency Response Team (SERT), can be formed from any group of teens. A Teen CERT can be formed as a school club, service organization, Venturing Crew, Explorer Post, or the training can be added to a school's graduation curriculum. 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 or large emergencies, CERTs may

  • raise funds for emergency response equipment in their community.

  • provide first-aid, crowd control or other services at community events.

  • hold planning, training, or recruitment meetings.

  • conduct or participate in disaster response exercises.


Some sponsoring agencies use state and federal grants 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.


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 member may self-activate (self-deploy) when their own neighborhood is affected by disaster or when an incident takes place at their current location (ex. home, work, school, church, or if an accident occurred in front of them). They should not hear about an incident and drive or respond to an event unless told to do so by their team member or sponsoring agency (as specified in chapters 1 and 6 of the basic CERT Training). 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 messages 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 a morgue, locate supplies and food, convey messages to and from other CERTs 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, Hawaii and Kansas) registered, activated CERT members are eligible for worker's compensation for on-the-job injuries during declared disasters.


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