COMMUNITY EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM (CERT)
Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors such as the number of victims, communication failures and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911.
People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate lifesaving and life sustaining needs. One also expects that under these kinds of conditions, family members, fellow employees and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each other.
If we can predict that emergency services will not meet immediate needs following a major disaster, especially if there is no warning, and people will spontaneously volunteer, what can government do to prepare its citizens for this eventuality?
First, present people with the facts about what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate services. Second, give the message about their responsibility for mitigation and preparedness. Third, train them in needed lifesaving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Fourth, organize teams so that they are an extension of first responder services offering immediate help to victims until professional services arrive.
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The training program that LAFD initiated makes good sense and furthers the process of citizens understanding their responsibility in preparing for disaster. It also increases their ability to safely help themselves, their family, and their neighbors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. With President Bush’s Citizen Corps Initiative, CERT training has become even more important.
The CERT course will benefit anyone who takes it. The individual will be better prepared to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business, and government teams that, in essence, will be auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster information that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster.
CERT is about readiness, people helping people, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. CERT is a positive and realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where people will initially be on their own and their actions can make a difference. Through training, individuals can manage utilities and put out small fires; provide basic medical aid; search for and rescue victims safely; and organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective.