When disaster strikes on or near a college campus, local first responders don’t always have the staff or resources to help immediately — especially when the campus is as big as a small city.
That’s why thousands of students, faculty and staff on campuses nationwide are being certified to help.
Campus Community Emergency Response Teams (C-CERT) are modeled after the national Community Emergency Response Team program, which educates civilians about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills like fire safety, search and rescue, team organization and basic medical operations.
Managed by FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division, the C-CERT program is part of FEMA’s larger whole community approach to preparedness that preaches that the country isn’t completely resilient unless each community member is engaged and educated about what to do in a disaster situation.
College campuses, just like any communities, are at risk from natural disasters to school shootings. And sometimes the size of the campus can be overwhelming for first responders who are responsible for the city’s response.
“Having a C-CERT team … local public safety can focus on other areas [during an emergency situation]; the campus can be self-sufficient for a time,” said Philip Schertzing, C-CERT project manager at Michigan State University (MSU) and director of the school’s Global Community Security Institute.
FEMA is conducting research on exactly how many college programs exist, and it’s estimated that more than 500 campuses run CERT programs. Teen CERT, which trains high school students for emergency situations, is also on the rise.
With real-life emergency preparedness experience on their campuses, the hope is that these individuals will use their training and education long after they’ve graduated.
An Authority Figure
Tornadoes are the No. 1 threat in Lee County, Ala., the home of Auburn University (AU).
“If we had a large incident near or on campus, first responders would be overwhelmed quickly,” said Chance Corbett, associate director of emergency management for AU’s Department of Public Safety and Security.
In the event of a disaster, C-CERT members put on their helmets, vests and other equipment and are able to evacuate people from the building, manage traffic and spread information among the crowd. If there’s a shooting or serious injury, the team can set public boundaries, keeping people away from the scene and also informed about the situation until first responders arrive.
“They’re seen as some kind of authority figure,” Corbett said.
The goal is to have a CERT in each building on campus, so if disaster strikes, those members are educated about every fire extinguisher, exit and assembly point, and they also have a good idea of everyone who works in the building, Corbett said.
The Auburn C-CERT is made up of 250 faculty and staff volunteers — no students — and works closely with Lee County Emergency Management, which runs an extensive CERT program.
The fire department helps run the campus trainings, which include a two-day, 16-hour course with hands-on exercises like search and rescue and first aid training. Team members also participate in refresher courses and periodic meetings to keep their skills — and interest — updated.
The county-campus relationship benefits both Lee County residents and AU’s population. If a CERT employee lives within the county and completes the AU training course, he or she can take a short orientation course through the county and can be a member of both teams. This gives the person the authority, and two sets of emergency supplies, to help both on campus and off.
“They can help in their homes or in their neighborhoods,” Corbett said. And there’s a better chance they’ll stay active when they graduate.
“The training goes with them,” he said. “It’s not likely they will forget it when they leave the campus.”
Train the Trainer
Thorough training is required before volunteers can call themselves C-CERT members.
FEMA released an annex to the CERT Basic Training Instructor Guide, designed to help certified CERT instructors teach the course on a college campus. The annex lists tips and aspects to consider before starting a team.
For example, what’s the campus policy on liability, funding and forming relationships with local first responders? It also covers how to conduct training, reviewing topics like disaster psychology and preparedness; terrorism and light search and rescue operations; information on planning and marketing a college team; and resources to learn more about campus programs.
The training program started in 2007 at MSU’s School of Criminal Justice when the DHS awarded the school a two-year grant to develop a standard program dubbed Train the Trainer to certify instructors and give them the tools to bring back to their own members.
The three-day program involves lectures, small group discussions, demonstrations, practice and “teach-back” sessions. If the program is offered for class credit, it can be stretched over the entire semester.