Community Emergency Response Teams (Why they Are Still Relevant)

Many years ago, citizens protected their own communities by joining the volunteer fire department. The sense of pride and camaraderie was high among those who got involved.  As the demand for specialized services grew the fire department became less of an option for the average citizen.  Training standards were introduced and requirements became more burdensome as the time commitment needed to become proficient escalated.  As the economy changed the volunteers were forced to choose between the fire department, jobs and families. Participation in volunteer fire fighting declined, especially in growing cities.

As we watched Hurricane Katrina render the community powerless in New Orléans and other communities have since been similarly challenged, we wondered what the citizens could have done to improve their lot.  Having many members of the community with CERT training would have undoubtedly improved the situation.

Today communities are beginning to offer training in emergency preparedness to allow those who want to be ready for disasters and help the community to be able to do so.  Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) are made up of citizens from the community who want to help their neighbors in their time of need.  The training is about 21 to 25 hours long and it covers a variety of survival topics that can keep you from being reliant on government services when so many others are doing the same thing.

The CERT training for community groups is usually delivered in 2 1/2 hour sessions, one evening a week over a 7 week period. It can be delivered in a couple of weekend sessions.  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 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 work in a safe and proper way. 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 way.
  • 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. (All the equipment is provided by the sponsoring entity)

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.

So if you are looking to get involved, contact your local emergency management office. Go to http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/about.shtm to learn more about this vital service.

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About managingemergencies

I am a professional consultant with 30 years of experience in managing emergencies. My background and skills gave me the foundation to start Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com. I held various positions in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department until I retired in 2007. As a emergency planner and trainer in the Prince George's County Office of Homeland Security I planned exercises and training for government agencies and citizens groups. I was appointed Fire Chief of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department in 2009. I started Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants in June of that year. I had the opportunity to become the Assistant Fire Chief - Operations of the District of Columbia Fire/EMS Department and served for a year as the Interim Fire Chief. I am a trained mediator, mediator team leader and trainer. I also served as the Fire/EMS Department Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.
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