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Blog | FEMA Community Emergency Response Team

If, and when, a major disaster happens, the fire and emergency medical services (EMS) will not be able to meet the demands of the community. The shear number of victims, communications failures, road blockages, bridge collapses, and a number of other potential factors will disrupt the almost immediate access we've come to expect of the emergency services normally available through the 911 number. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life-saving and life-sustaining needs. Under these conditions family members, fellow employees, and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each other. Following the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 800 people were saved by untrained, spontaneous volunteers. However, 100 people lost their lives while attempting to save others. This is a high price to pay and is preventable through training.

What can we as citizens do to prepare for these potential disasters and avoid unnecessary death and injury?

In 1985 the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) developed the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept to help train citizens in how to handle themselves during and after a major emergency. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has adopted and expanded the CERT concept believing them to be applicable to all kinds of hazards.

As the name implies, the CERT program emphasizes the "team" approach to responding to a disaster. Citizens that are interested can obtain training and develop a neighborhood, business, or governmental "team" to provide immediate assistance to people in their area, before, during and after an emergency.

The CERT training for community groups is normally one evening a week, for 2-1/2 hours, over a seven-week period. Session I is Disaster Preparedness and trains attendees so they can provide emergency help in a safe and appropriate manner. Session II is Disaster Fire Suppression and explains details about fires and how best to suppress them. Participants use a fire extinguisher and put out a fire as part of the training. Session III is Disaster Medical Operations Part I and covers diagnosing and treating airway obstruction, bleeding and shock, and the principles of triage. Session IV is Part II and covers evaluating the patient by doing a head-to-toe assessment, establishing a treatment area, and performing basic first aid. Session V is Light Search and Rescue Operations and covers basic search and rescue planning, techniques, and safety. Session VI is Disaster Psychology and Team Organization and covers looking for symptoms that might be experienced by the disaster victim and worker. Session VII is Course Review and Disaster Simulation. Participants review their answers to a take home examination and practice the skills they have learned.

The CERT program is intended to be conducted by local people for local participants. The starting point for the program is to have someone take a "train-the-trainer" (TTT) course to be able to offer the program. The TTT course is offered by FEMA on a scheduled basis and by many state Offices of Emergency Management/Preparedness. For more information about this program you can contact your state training officer of emergency management, or you can write to FEMA at: Sam Isenberger, Emergency Management Institute, 16825 South Seton Ave, Emmitsburg, MD 21727

I want to thank Patty Worth of Layton, Utah for making me aware of this fantastic program. Patty attended my presentation at Earth Festival, and during my talk she kept saying to herself, "I know that," as a result of her participation and training in the CERT program. I also want to thank Sam Isenberger of FEMA for providing the additional information about this program.