When we think of first responders, we often picture police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other brave professionals. But in many parts of the US, first responders often get some help from their communities to respond to emergencies.
We’ve dipped into the world of CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) before on this blog (which you can check out here). With the new year coming up, maybe some towns and programs will see a New-Year’s-resolutions-powered rush by community members to help where possible.
Regardless of what happens after January 1st, we figured it was time to focus on CERT again, get a bit more in-depth, and provide information some towns can use to improve their community-based response networks.
What is CERT? (Again)
Because we’ve already covered what CERT is more in-depth, we’ll just provide a quick reminder.
CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) are response teams composed of community members that undergo specific training. Most towns deploy their CERT teams to handle the simpler and less intensive aspects of disaster response, like point-of-dispensing (POD), simple medical triage, and light search and rescue.
These programs can wear other masks, sometimes titled Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) or Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET).
Most CERT volunteers are everyday people with little to no prior training in emergency response and recovery operations. CERT programs, to be the most effective, need to manage the training of their community members who give up their time to respond and help during emergencies.
Even the most well-intentioned people can add wrinkles to a disaster response when they lack proper training. Fortunately, CERT programs require volunteers to participate in a tailored training program, one that gives them knowledge and hands-on experience that translates to real disaster response scenarios. CERT training not only lets citizens help officials during disasters, it enables them to effectively and safely assist their fellow community members when officials are unavailable.
CERT Training Courses for Volunteers
Aspiring CERT members must complete 8 basic courses as outlined by FEMA.
Put succinctly, this section of training covers the basics.
The first is the role of CERT in disaster response, as well as the role of other stakeholders, like local leaders and agencies.
Next, this course explores the types of possible disasters, the effects of each, and how emergencies impact critical services like utilities, communications, and availability of resources.
Lastly, this section touches on personal preparedness and organization. FEMA describes how individuals can best increase their chances of survival and mitigate damage.
Teams are most effective with strong leadership and organization.
Any volunteer coming into a CERT program, regardless of the eventual role they will fill, needs to be familiar with the organizational and command structure of a response.
This course is an important one for the curriculum. It teaches students how cert is organized, how resources are allocated, and how to gather data from disaster and emergency sites. This course is a bit more material on safety as well, as certain operations, like search and rescue, put participants at an increased risk for harm.
Disaster Medical Operations (I)
Disaster medical operations (I) gives volunteers the knowledge needed to perform basic and life-saving aid.
The material in this path includes treatments and strategies for severe blood loss, low body temperature, and airway obstruction. The course also covers softer skills, like patient interaction and communication.
Disaster Medical Operations (II)
Medical triage and field operations are too simple for one chapter. Disaster medical operations (II) expands on the structure of medical responses.
This course has five main tracks:
- Main casualty incidents
- Functions of disaster medical operations
- Disaster medical treatment areas
- Head-to-toe patient assessments
- Public health considerations
Medical operations get complex quickly, and this chapter leaves no ambiguity as to the role of CERT volunteers in each variation.
Disasters leave strong impacts on the psyche of everyone, from the responders to the victims.
Disaster Psychology provides its students with two important sets of tools that address the adverse mental effects of disasters.
The first is managing the psychological first aid of others. This includes recognizing symptoms of psychological trauma, in both its emotional and physical manifestations.
Trauma doesn’t spare responders. This chapter also teaches CERT volunteers self-care; how to reduce stress, including mental exercises and physical-care pointers.
Fire Safety and Utility Controls
We use “fire” and its related words and phrases to extreme, destructive, and uncontrollable things, and that’s for good reason. Fire is a rampaging wildcard, and CERT volunteers need to be kitted out with knowledge to handle it and its effects.
First, this section starts with fire chemistry, which covers types of fires and the right means of extinguishing each one. After these basics, assessing fires and developing a course of action becomes a focus.
Fire suppression is the natural follow-up to the first two topics. CERT volunteers then learn how to identify and properly use different fire extinguishers. Safety is also paramount in these situations, and using caution when approaching and putting out fires comes next.
Lastly, this chapter touches on finding fires before they happen. Instruction then walks volunteers through how to recognize hazardous materials in storage, in transit, and in their home; additionally, this then extends the lens to finding utility and other fire hazards in common environments like the home and workplace.
Light Search and Rescue
While search and rescue can be an intensive and dangerous operation, CERT volunteers still play a role.
Volunteers learn from this chapter how to assess search and rescue operations and how teams will operate. Then the material dives into how to systematically search for survivors in interior and exterior environments, and how to safely conduct rescue operations.
Terrorism and CERT
The last chapter provides insight into terrorism and responses to active shooter threats.
The eight signs of terrorism and neighborhood preparedness are major focuses of this section of material. The last leg covers hazardous materials (HazMat) and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNe), giving CERT volunteers basic guidelines to follow should one of the disasters occur.
Finishing Up the Course
After finishing up each section, volunteers can review key topics and ideas, complete a final exam, and participate in a simulation to get some hands-on experience with their new knowledge.
If you’re interested in tips for tabletops and exercises, check out this blog post.
You can also watch this webinar with Palo Alto and Alameda County to learn CERT program management strategies.
CERT Volunteer Recruitment
A CERT program isn’t possible without volunteers. So what can a local government or administrative body do to get more local residents involved?
Some classic, old-school marketing is one avenue for CERT program owners. Find local businesses with bulletin boards and post fliers with your organization’s contact information. Try to spell out the requirements upfront, and give some insights to the benefits of being a trained CERT volunteer.
Local colleges and universities are also great places to draw attention. Students are often looking for new and diverse experiences, and certain majors may benefit from the experience they gain as a participant.
One final path is talking to local businesses again, but this time exploring some of their time-off policies. Some organizations offer their employees volunteer hours, and a CERT program may qualify. With a short presentation and a few hours of speaking, your organization’s CERT program could have some new volunteers ready to tackle disasters.