Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.
The basic idea is to use CERT to perform a large number of tasks needed in emergencies, thus freeing highly trained professional responders for more technical tasks. Much of CERT training concerns the Incident Command System and organization, so CERT members fit easily into larger command structures.
A team may self-activate (self-deploy) when their own neighborhood is affected by disaster and efforts are made to report their response status to the sponsoring agency. A self-activated team will size-up the loss in their neighborhood and begin performing the skills they have learned to minimize further loss of life, property, and environment. They will continue to respond safely until redirected or relieved by the sponsoring agency or professional responders on-scene.
Teams in neighborhoods not affected by disaster may be deployed or activated by the sponsoring agency. The sponsoring agency may communicate with neighborhood CERT leaders through various means. Teams may be dispatched to affected neighborhoods, or organized to support ongoing operations. CERT members may augment support staff at an incident command post or Emergency Operations Center or be used for various other tasks on an as-needed basis as identified by the team leader.
In the short term, CERTs perform data gathering to locate casualties requiring professional response, or situations requiring professional rescues, simple fire-fighting tasks, turning off gas, light search and rescue, damage evaluation of structures, and first aid. In the longer term, CERTs may assist in the evacuation of residents or with setting up a neighborhood shelter.
While state and local jurisdictions will implement training in the manner that best suits the community, the Citizen Corps CERT program has an established curriculum. Jurisdictions may augment the training, but are strongly encouraged to deliver the entire core content. The Citizen Corps CERT core curriculum for the basic course is composed of the following nine units (time is instructional hours):
· Unit 1: Disaster Preparedness (2.5 hrs). Topics include (in part) identifying local disaster threats, disaster impact, mitigation and preparedness concepts, and an overview of Citizen Corps and CERT. Hands on skills include team-building exercises, and shutting off utilities.
· Unit 2: Fire Safety (2.5 hrs). Students learn about fire chemistry, mitigation practices, hazardous materials identification, suppression options, and are introduced to the concept of size-up. Hands-on skills include using a fire extinguisher to suppress a live flame, and wearing basic protective gear.
· Unit 3: Disaster Medical Operations part 1 (2.5 hrs). Students learn to identify and treat certain life-threatening conditions in a disaster setting, as well as START triage. Hands-on skills include performing head-tilt/chin-lift, practicing bleeding control techniques, and performing triage as an exercise.
· Unit 4: Disaster Medical Operations part 2 (2.5 hrs). Topics cover mass casualty operations, public health, assessing patients, and treating injuries. Students practice patient assessment, and various treatment techniques.
· Unit 5: Light Search and Rescue Operations (2.5 hrs). Size-up is expanded as students learn about assessing structural damage, marking structures that have been searched, search techniques, as well as rescue techniques and cribbing. Hands-on activities include lifting and cribbing an object, and practicing rescue carries.
· Unit 6: CERT Organization (1.5 hrs). Students are introduced to several concepts from the Incident Command System, and local team organization and communication is explained. Hands-on skills include a table-top exercise focusing on incident command and control.
· Unit 7: Disaster Psychology (1 hr). Responder well-being and dealing with victim trauma are the topics of this unit.
· Unit 8: Terrorism and CERT (2.5 hrs). Students learn how terrorists may choose targets, what weapons they may use, and identifying when chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive weapons may have been deployed. Students learn about CERT roles in preparing for and responding to terrorist attacks. A table-top exercise highlights topics covered.
· Unit 9: Course Review and Disaster Simulation (2.5 hrs). Students take a written exam, then participate in a real-time practical disaster simulation where the different skill areas are put to the test. A critique follows the exercise where students and instructors have an opportunity to learn from mistakes and highlight exemplary actions. Students may be given a certificate of completion at the conclusion of the course.
Citizen Corps CERT training emphasizes safely 'doing the most good for the most people as quickly as possible' when responding to a disaster. For this reason, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training is not included in the core curriculum, as it is time- and responder-intensive. However, many jurisdictions encourage or require CERT members to obtain CPR training.
Each unit of Citizen Corps CERT training is ideally delivered by professional responders or other experts in the field addressed by the unit. This is done to help build unity between CERT members and responders, keep the attention of students, and help the professional response organizations be comfortable with the training which CERT members receive.
Citizen Corps CERT training is provided free to interested members of the community, and is delivered in a group classroom setting. People may complete the training without obligation to join a CERT and disaster response tool kits are offered as an incentive to join but must be returned to the sponsoring agency when members resign from CERT.
Because uniformed volunteer disaster responders are accorded a higher level of trust than unaffiliated volunteers when responding in a disaster, many sponsoring agencies require a criminal background-check of all trainees before allowing them to participate on a CERT.