Community Emergency Response Training (CERT)

This week and next, I’m taking basic CERT training here in a local school. I first learned about the CERT program in a disaster planning training I took on behalf of our local County Archives. CERT trained people were identified as resources for assistance to the Collection in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

CERT programs were initially developed to assist communities to take care of themselves immediately after a major disaster, when governmental first responders and the military are overwhelmed or simply unable to get to the scene because roads and bridges are disrupted. The CERT concept originated in Los Angeles in 1985. Experience with the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake confirmed the need for trained civilians who can meet the immediate needs of themselves, their families and their communities. My trainers here told me that the program received a huge impetus–and federal funding–as a result of 9/11.

Taught by experienced first responders–in our local case by “Neil”, who was the director of Emergency Operations for nearby Napa County for more than 20 years–the training consists of 7 Sessions: ¬†Disaster Preparedness, Disaster Fire Suppression, Disaster Medical Operations parts 1 & 2, Light Search and Rescue Operations, Disaster Psychology and Team Organization, and a Course Review and Disaster Simulation.

The trainers also provided the students in my class with an emergency bag “primed” with a nifty green safety helmet, bright yellow vest with large reflective “CERT” markings, and other items; we are trained on what other items we should add to this kit on our own. The emphasis here is on rescuer safety (“Who’s the most important person in a disaster?” “ME!”) and of teaching non-professionals the basic skills that will help them take care of themselves, their families and neighbors during the 3 to 7 post-disaster days that professional emergency response may be absent. I never received training like this in my medical education or during my Navy career.

Once training is completed, the new CERTs are encouraged to become involved in community / neighborhood CERT organizations where they can meet from time to time to plan for disaster, maintain their training and develop a sense of team membership.

I searched the CERT website for local organizations in California. There are 253 of them listed; my city is not among them. One more thing to add to my “to do” list…

What’s the situation in your community? I encourage you to look into CERT training for you and your loved ones.

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