Training & Education

How to Establish a CERT in Your Jurisdiction

Community Emergency Response Teams go a long way toward preparing citizens for disasters of all types.

“Have a kit, make a plan, stay informed.” All good advice, but what the national message lacks is an emphasis on the need for every family to have solid emergency skills training. They can get that from a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training course.

CERT training teaches emergency first-aid, basic rescue techniques, assessing a building to determine if it’s safe to enter, basic firefighting, disaster psychology, securing utilities, operating with a team and neighborhood search. CERT-trained citizens learn to work with other CERT members to form a team, go into their neighborhood after a disaster and “do the most good for the most people.”

The basic CERT curriculum is available to anyone. Among the many things the federal government does well is provide a well designed, easy-to-access curriculum for instructing CERT classes in your community. Lesson plans, video clips and PowerPoint slides are all available for easy download at no charge on the Citizen Corps website.

Developing an effective CERT program in a community involves more than simply instructing classes. The initial curriculum takes about 25 to 30 hours and is merely the foundation upon which a CERT Community must be built. Student enthusiasm begins with making the class worth a participant’s time. Minimize classroom lectures — CERT is about learning hands-on emergency skills.

The Team Concept

Because CERT is a team concept, we here in Monterey, Calif., initially form the students into five-member teams. The teams select their own team leaders for each skill practice, such as splinting and bandaging, and rotate the leader position for each segment. Everyone takes turns being a victim and rescuer. A critical disaster function and role for CERT members is to assemble, assess their neighborhood and proceed as a team to perform safe actions without any help or initial support from traditional first responders, such as the fire department. Beginning their basic training with a sense of team operations greatly supports this primary function.

CERT members should be taught to use materials that they find in an average home. Clean linens, diapers, sanitary napkins and a host of other household items make excellent dressings and bandages for wounds. Cardboard boxes can be quickly fashioned into a splint. Blankets can be an effective stretcher to move the injured. Materials in a backyard fence, such as pieces of lumber, make good prying tools to remove debris from a trapped person. A roll of duct tape has countless uses including securing a splint or reinforcing cracked windows.

CERT skills are essential for family members to learn even if they never venture out into their neighborhood to help others.

Once your solid foundation of ongoing basic training is established, you now can build on this foundation to establish your CERT Community. Quarterly drills are very effective in maintaining member skills, enthusiasm and participation. Make those drills realistic and minimize classroom instruction. Monthly email newsletters, Facebook pages and a website are effective, low-cost methods for disseminating new information and maintaining contact. Setting up a website should be neither complicated nor expensive. There’s usually someone in your membership who has the skills to set these things up for your program. In addition, most IT departments in a city or county can provide this setup service.

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