Community Emergency Response Team

In the United States a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), sometimes known as a Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), or Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET), is a group of volunteer emergency workers who have received basic training in disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, and team operations. They are designed to act as an auxiliary to existing emergency responders in the event of a major disaster.


The concept of widespread local volunteer emergency responders was implemented and developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987 showed the need for preparing citizens to take care of themselves and their loved ones after a disaster.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, residents of San Francisco's Marina District help run lengths of fire hose from a fireboat to firefighters ashore after the hydrant system failed. Later, the Fire Department worked with the community to form the City's NERT program

By 1993, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had made the program available nationwide; by 2003, CERT programs were offered in 45 states.

CERT and Citizen Corps were transferred to the Office of Domestic Preparedness (now the Office of Grants and Training) in August 2004.

CERT organization

A local government, usually a city, attempts to recruit a CERT in each neighborhood. Most governments with CERTs maintain a full-time community-service person as liaison to the volunteers who form the rest of the organization.

CERTs provide their own personnel, supplies, tools, organization and equipment, but they are activated by, trained by, promoted by and liaise with the government. They are temporary volunteer government workers, usually organized as auxiliaries to the fire department. In some areas, (such as California) during declared disasters, registered, activated CERT members are eligible for worker's compensation for on-the-job injuries.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that the standard, ten-person team be comprised as follows:

  • Team Leader. (1 person)
  • Safety Officer (1 person)
  • Fire Suppression Team (2 people)
  • Search and Rescue Team (2 people)
  • Medical Triage Team (2 people)
  • Medical Treatment Team (2 people)

It is important to note that CERT teams often use the Incident Command System, and as a result their organizational structures are varied and tailored to the individual incident and the required response.

The city directly liaises with the neighborhood CERT team leader through the CERT's organic communication team. In some areas the communications may be by amateur radio, FRS/GMRS/MURS radio, or dedicated telephone or fire-alarm networks. In other areas, relays of bicycle-equipped runners can effectively carry mail between the teams and the city's emergency operations center.

CERT Team Member Roles

  • CERT Team Leader. If there is only one CERT team member on-scene, they are also the Incident Commander until the arrival of someone more competent. Makes IC initial assessment of the scene and determines the appropriate course of action for team members; checks team members prior to deployment to ensure they are safe and equipped for the operation; determines safe or unsafe working environments; assigns team member roles if not already assigned; designates triage area, treatment area, morgue, and vehicle traffic routes; coordinates and directs team operations; determines logistical needs (water, food, medical supplies, transportation, equipment, etc.) and determines ways to meet those needs through team members or citizen volunteers on the scene; collects and writes reports on the operation and victims; ensures team accountability; communicates and coordinates with the Incident Commander.
  • Fire Suppression Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader to suppress small fires in designated work areas or as needed; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the search and rescue team or triage team; assist in evacuation and transport as needed; assist in the triage or treatment area as needed, other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Search and Rescue Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, searching for and providing rescue of victims as is prudent under the conditions; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team, assist in the triage or treatment area as needed; other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Medical Triage Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, providing START triage for victims found at the scene; marking victims with category of injury per the standard operating procedures; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team if needed, assist the Search and Rescue Team if needed, assist in the Medical Triage Area if needed, assist in the Treatment Area if needed, other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Medical Treatment Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, providing medical treatment to victims within the scope of their training. This task is normally accomplished in the Treatment Area, however, it may take place in the affected area as well. When not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team as needed, assist the Medical Triage Team as needed; other duties as assigned; communicate with the Team Leader.

In the short term, CERTs perform data gathering, especially to locate mass-casualties requiring professional response, or situations requiring professional rescues, simple fire-fighting tasks (e.g. small fires, turning off gas), light search and rescue, damage evaluation of structures, triage and first aid. In the longer term, CERTs may assist in evacuation residents, or assist with setting up a neighborhood shelter.

Training and Organization

CERT training is easy for government. The training can be organized as mass-classes using pre-existing training facilities. Training usually combines expert lecturers, take-home emergency manuals and self-study materials with hands-on classes in small groups with previously-trained CERT volunteers. The result is a very good value for the cost.

Most effective programs run a program on a very predictable schedule so civilians can locate the training. For example, one effective format has a four-hour training program on the first Saturday morning of each month.

About 1% of adults will train simply because the training is available. More will train if the area is prone to periodic disasters, or the government effectively recruits public-service groups and schools. Civilians are recruited with advertising in schools, businesses, parks, recreation programs, libraries, and open-houses for fire and police departments.

CERT participation becomes much wider if the recruiting and training is made into a social occasion. One of the best social recruiting methods is to ask trainees to go door-to-door in their neighborhoods. This mobilizes CERT trainees to establish neighborhood teams. Typically, the volunteer distributes flyers that offer a "yard party" on a patriotic holiday, and then hosts it.

The classic way to recruit a neighborhood team is to offer food. Most people will come for the food. After that, the neighborhood at least knows where to go. The flyers or pamphlets usually also give the schedules of training sessions. The social occasion gives people a place to meet and lets interested persons find each other and organize.

The first step of each training meeting is always to register attendees. A notice and newsletter is mailed or e-mailed to previous attendees to arrive just before the next training session. The city also uses attendance to certify people, giving the city a database of trained volunteers.

As a last step, before graduating and certifying volunteers that complete the training, the city can run a criminal check on them. This means that even criminals can train (they need disaster preparation, too!), but the city can avoid depending on them.

During registration, the trainee gets a name tag, with a colored dot, or group number.

As part of registration, the trainee collates a self-training booklet for the class, and adds it to the notebook binder he was requested to bring to each session. This notebook forms an important resource to help remember procedures in a real disaster. It also assures that a trainee has an exact record of the areas in which he was trained - many trainees make up missed classes to fill their notebook.

The CERT organization may run a lottery to encourage attendance. The tickets are given at registration. The premiums are given after the training, and may include items purchased by the government (tools or supplies) as well as commercial promotional offerings from local businesses, such as free lunches or sample products.

After this, the group splits into parts (assigned by the colored dots on their badges) and trains. Having several groups permits smaller facilities to be used in rotation with lectures and demonstrations.

Topics for a week-end training session usually include: "need for disaster preparedness", "fire safety and fire extinguisher use", "first aid and triage", "cardiopulmonary resuscitation", "logistics and communication", "sheltering", "search and rescue", and "team organization".

In some areas, auxiliary classes are offered to train communicators, radiological safety officers, shelter cooking and organization, staffing of the emergency operations center, and advanced CPR and first-aid.

After the training, the lots are drawn and the premiums are distributed.

After a trainee graduates and passes the background check, they may get a service uniform, possibly a protective helmet or emergency-colored windbreaker with organizational logos.

More information: Starting and Maintaining a CERT Organization: Resource Center.

See also

External links

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