(November 24, 2011)
Most of us have been involved in – or at least are familiar with – CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams). The 59th Annual IAEM Conference and EMEX 2011 in Las Vegas last week gave us an opportunity to hear Rachel Jacky, Director of the FEMA Citizen Corps CERT Program, talk about how the program has evolved into something much different than many of us remember.
"This ain't the same CERT that got started in the 1980's", she said. "It has expanded and grown while keeping it's original purpose."
What hasn’t changed is the fundamental concept of CERT (the first responders to any incident are the people who are already there) or it’s basic rationale (training helps keep them safe). The core skills that CERT teaches hasn’t changed, although they have been updated and overhauled.
The most important thing that hasn’t changed is the ownership. CERT’s are still primarily owned on a local basis. “FEMA can provide a lot,” Jacky said. “They can’t know what is the smartest and best way to involve volunteer responders in a community’s best interests.”
What has changed is that CERT has been around long enough to have a solid track record. This gives it the freedom to adapt itself, so it is more valuable to an ever-changing emergency management program.
Much of that is because there is now an agency (FEMA’s Citizen Corps) to keep records. Citizen Corps is the umbrella for other groups (like the MRC – Medical Reserve Corps), and is affiliated with others (the VFW, ARRL, CAP, and – my personal favorite – Girl Scouts), but CERT can certainly be considered one of the more resilient.
The CERT web page is impressive. There are links to find CERT’s in your community, stories of CERT’s in actions, training and video materials, and – most impressive – a place to register your local CERT so it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
Jacky said there are almost 1850 local CERT programs registered, and in 2010, there were almost 430,000 individuals trained who provided 1.3 million volunteer hours.
“More impressive than numbers, and a terrific development in the life of CERT,” she said, “is its growing inclusiveness.” The majority of CERTS target their training for the general public, but there are also CERT groups targeted to faith-based organizations, businesses, teens, college/universities, special needs and military groups.
Recent statistics show that over 10% of the registered CERT teams have been deployed in actual emergencies over 10 times, but 30% have never responded. What are those groups doing? Some of them are new, but some of this is related to the expanding mission of CERT teams and how CERT teams are being every more consciously integrated into Emergency Management as a discipline.
In addition to the activities you might expect CERT’s perform (neighborhood checks, staffing shelters, sandbagging) they are also supporting emergency management by doing outreach for emergency preparedness, fire safety or public health. “Who better to deliver that kind of information?” Jacky said. “The best messenger for preparedness is a neighbor who is already prepared.”
The CERT program has some lofty goals for the next couple years. Continued growth, of course, but also an increased emphasis on training effective CERT trainers. There are two courses taught at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute: E428 Train the Trainer and E427 Program Manager
Jacky said another goal is to train CERT members for their expanded functions by developing training modules to expand their skills in areas like animal response, crowd management, leadership or communications.