In response to a real emergency situation, there are many in the community willing to show up as volunteers to help. But without the right training, inexperienced responders may find their help is less valuable, because trained first responders have learned that untrained volunteers can sometimes do more harm than good.

Following the earthquake in Mexico City citizens reacted quickly and saved 800 lives. Unfortunately, because they were not trained, some evaluations of the response conclude that perhaps 100 lives were lost. In the USA, we have CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training available as a way to help your neighbors and to further ensure the safety of your own family.

Following a major disaster, professional first responders who provide for public safety, fire, and medical services will not be able to meet the demand. Communities will have to rely on well trained   community member to supply some of those services.

CERT teaches individuals and organizations what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate services. It teaches volunteer and personal responsibility for mitigation and preparedness. CERT teaches life saving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Finally it organizes teams to offer immediate help to victims until professional responders and service providers arrive.

The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The LAPD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials believing them applicable to all hazards. Since 1993 when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities in 28 States and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training.

CERT courses are taught in the community by a team of first responders who have been certified and have the knowledge and skills to instruct the sessions.

CERT training for community groups is usually delivered in 2-1/2 hour sessions, one evening a week over a 7 week period. The training consists of the following:

  • Session I, DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Addresses hazards to which people are vulnerable in their community. Materials cover actions that participants and their families should take before, during, and after a disaster. As the session progresses, the instructor begins to explore an expanded response role for civilians in that they should begin to consider themselves disaster workers. Since they will want to help their family members and neighbors, this training can help them operate in a safe and appropriate manner. The CERT concept and organization are discussed as well as applicable laws governing volunteers in that jurisdiction.
  • Session II, DISASTER FIRE SUPPRESSION: Briefly covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards, and fire suppression strategies. However, the thrust of this session is the safe use of fire extinguishers, sizing up the situation, controlling utilities, and extinguishing a small fire.
  • Session III, DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS PART I: Participants practice diagnosing and treating airway obstruction, bleeding, and shock by using simple triage and rapid treatment techniques.
  • Session IV, DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS, PART II: Covers evaluating patients by doing a head to toe assessment, establishing a medical treatment area, performing basic first aid, and practicing in a safe and sanitary manner.
  • Session V, LIGHT SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS: Participants learn about search and rescue planning, size-up, search techniques, rescue techniques, and most important, rescuer safety.
  • Session VI, DISASTER PSYCHOLOGY AND TEAM ORGANIZATION: Covers signs and symptoms that might be experienced by the disaster victim and worker. It addresses CERT organization and management principles, and the need for documentation.
  • Session VII, COURSE REVIEW AND DISASTER SIMULATION: Participants review their answers from a take home examination. Finally, they practice the skills that they have learned during the previous six sessions in disaster activity.

During each session participants are required to bring safety equipment (gloves, goggles, mask) and disaster supplies (bandages, flashlight, dressings) which will be used during the session. By doing this for each session, participants are building a disaster response kit of items that they will need during a disaster.

After training, CERT members receive a certification that will allow access to serve in a disaster area where others are prohibited. They may then purchase a vest, hat and other items which help to identify them as trained and ready to assist. In some jurisdictions, they may be sworn in by their local emergency response agency.

CERT is about readiness – people helping people, rescuer safety, and first and foremost it provides skills which offer greater protection for your family. In the first hours and days following a disaster there are never enough people trained with the skills to help. Prepare now to be one who can provide that aid, and ask where CERT training is available for your community.

To find CERT training in your community contact your local police or fire department.

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