The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program was created in 1987 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Los Angeles officials were asked to help Mexico City with a critique following an 8.1 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people. It was noted that many “spontaneous volunteers” (people with no training who pitched in to try and help others) had saved over 800 trapped victims, but at least 100 volunteers were killed in the effort. They died because of a lack of knowledge and training that would have kept them safe.
LA officials knew they would have a similar situation happen after a big earthquake and decided to offer training to help protect would- be rescuers. It was very successful and taken nation-wide by FEMA in 1993.
CERT groups are essentially local volunteers that have enough basic training to keep themselves out of trouble when helping out after a disaster. They can do the less technical activities that free the professional up to do the really dangerous stuff.
CERT provides free training to teach interested individuals and groups about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills. We have taught church groups, Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, and other interested people in our community. If I had my way, everyone in the county would take the training, whether they join the group or not. A CERT graduate can use that knowledge at home or work in everyday life and assist the professionals in an actual disaster response, even if they are not a member of the team.
Our program was started in 2003. Currently our group has three trailers equipped for disaster response. We have responded to assist with sandbagging and evacuations from a gas leak and from wildfire. We have done traffic control during emergencies and even responded to assist with a murder investigation. (They needed some of our equipment!)
In between disasters, our group provides traffic control for community events– races, parades, et cetera, which is good practice and gets us noticed. Our group also attends various events to provide disaster handouts and to promote CERT, and we make presentations to various groups about disaster preparedness. We are always looking for opportunities for training, as well. As the CERT Coordinator in our community, I am also gradually introducing the prepper mindset into the group and my community under the guise of, “You can’t help if you aren’t prepared”.
CERT provides a variety of continuing education material that is made available to the public at no charge. Studying the publications discussed below will provide you with a basic foundation in emergency communications, leadership, disaster psychology, traffic and crowd safety, first aid, incident management, and other facets of disaster response. This info is easily adapted for use by the average everyday prepper.
I highly recommend that everyone take the CERT course, which generally takes 18-20 hours to complete. It includes both classroom time and hands-on practice with a mock disaster drill at the end of the class. Various speakers present different parts of the class, such as Fire Suppression, which is conducted by our local fire department. You are not required to join a CERT group after completing the course. The curriculum is designed to teach basic skills to the average, non-professional, potential volunteer. Students are constantly reminded that personal safety is the first priority; if the rescuer is hurt, he can no longer help! Below are some of the sessions:
Disaster Preparedness. This is a basic introduction to basic prepping and includes why people should be prepared and how to start. I have actually scared people to tears with this presentation, because they suddenly realized how vulnerable they really are.
Disaster Medical Operations. This includes setting up treatment areas, recognizing life-threatening problems, triage, and basic first aid. (It is amazing to me how many of our adult students don’t know anything about first aid!) We do both classroom sessions and hands-on practice.
Fire Suppression. This is usually the most popular class session, since most folks are closet firebugs, though we have had students cut and run during the actual drill. Students learn about fire chemistry and the fire triangle, types of combustibles, and hazardous materials. Fire prevention, size up, and fire extinguisher drills end the session.
Light Search and Rescue. The first thing students learn is how to assess a damaged building to determine if it is safe for a CERT volunteer to enter. The student learns how to safely locate, rescue, and apply initial first aid to people trapped in buildings and other confined spaces. We also learn to recognize when a rescue operation is beyond our training and should be left to the professionals.
Disaster Psychology. Here we discuss how people react during and after a disaster; we learn what to expect from survivors and how to help them in their initial recovery. Working a disaster also effects the rescuers in a lot of ways. We present information on what stresses volunteers (both during and after an event) and how to mitigate the effects and work with a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.
CERT Organization. This includes CERT structure and National Incident Management System (NIMS), decision making, and documentation (if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen). CERT members are required to take a NIMS class after joining a group.
Terrorism. We learn what it is; how to recognize an event in progress; and what to do before, during, and after an incident. We also encourage our students to take a weather watcher’s class and a CPR Class. Note: CPR is not performed in a mass-casualty incident, so we do not teach it during our classes.
CERT Publications. There are many continuing education training manuals available to CERT groups that are equally applicable to preppers. Most are offered in both MS Word and PDF format. Some of the manuals offer PowerPoint slide shows, as well. Unlike EMI, most of the CERT material is aimed at the average person. Instructor guides are also available for some of the following courses. An instructor is supposed to have had the CERT Train-the-Trainer course before teaching this material, but the rules say nothing about self-study. All of the CERT material can be downloaded free from www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams/training-materials.
- CERT Participant Manual. This is the manual that is used in CERT classes. It is a treasure trove of basic disaster response and preparedness information. The current version has 344 pages. (We give this book to class participants- hint, hint.)
- Hazard Annexes. These are appendixes that supplement the Participant Manual. You will find specific information on natural hazards, such as earthquake, flood, tornado, et cetera. Included is an explanation of what the hazard is, how to prepare for it and what to do before, during, and after. The idea is to download the chapters dealing with hazards most likely to occur in your area. There is an annex on pandemics that everyone should grab.
- CERT Animal Response I and II. (108 pages) These modules include disaster plans for animals (both pets and livestock), general animal behavior and safety issues, such as possible disease transmission, PPE (personal protective equipment), and first-aid for animal-caused injuries. General animal care and handling, animal first aid, dealing with owners, and animal ID are also covered. There is an appendix in the second module that lists additional resources that are available on-line.
- CERT Emergency Communication Manual. (52 pages) This CERT manual is a how-to reference on communication plans, different communications devices, such as phones and two-way radios, radio discipline, technique, and proper radio use.
- CERT Tools for Leadership Success. (49 pages) This publication reviews disaster psychology, the ICS (Incident Command System), and scene size up, and how leadership relates to these areas. Building a rapport with team members and traits and responsibilities of successful leaders and team members and leadership styles are discussed. There is a step-by-step-guide to effectively and smoothly take charge of a group and role-play exercises. I did find the information on leadership style particularly interesting in that an effective leader must be able to change his style to fit the situation and the team.
- Traffic and Crowd Management. (60 pages) I wish this book had been available when I was first learning how to manage traffic. How hard could it be, I thought? Silly me. I found that efficiently dealing with traffic and crowd flow is as much art as it is science. It took awhile to perfect my hand signals and body language so that drivers knew what was expected and knew that I meant what I “said”. One important skill is “reading a crowd” to determine if things are going south and how to deal with such a situation. Coordinating efforts with other team members can be difficult, as well. This little book lays all that out in a way that makes it easy to understand and apply.
- Flood Response for CERT’s. (40 pages) This manual gives instruction in applying CERT skills to flood response and safety concerns when working around flood waters. There is a first aid section aimed at dealing with common flood-related injuries and one on filling sandbags and building sandbag barricades. As filling and moving wet sand is back-breaking work, attention is given to proper lifting, stacking, and moving sandbags properly.
- CERT Firefight Rehab. (42 pages) Firefighter rehab is designed to ensure that the physical and mental well-being of members operating at the scene of an emergency (or a training exercise) don’t deteriorate to the point where it affects the safety of the individual and team. Firefighting is inherently dangerous in the best of circumstances, and any additional physical or mental stress increases the danger. Firefighter Rehab is a process that provides first responders on the scene of a fire with any necessary first aid for such things as dehydration and smoke inhalation and monitoring for life-threatening conditions as heatstroke and heart attack. This manual teaches you what to look for, basic first aid, and how to set up a rehab area, and it offers a step-by-step discussion of the process.
- Cert Exercise Swaps. (122 pages) One of the more useful practices in emergency response is participating in a realistic mock disaster drill. This manual explains how to design and conduct an effective, well thought-out tabletop or operational (hands-on) disaster drill. It also provides guidelines for swapping drills with other CERT groups. There are several activities included that develop skills and an appendix consisting of documents to be used to set up, run, and critique a drill.
- CERT Program Manager Course. (260 pages) While this particular book is written for CERT Coordinators the information is easily adapted for use by any organized group. Instruction includes setting up your organization, promotion, working with volunteers (including termination of a group member-never pleasant but sometimes necessary) and instructors, setting up training programs, policies and procedures, evaluation and sustaining the group.
- Wildland/Urban Interface Modules A, B, and C. (58 pages) This manual was developed for California, but the information is applicable anywhere. It defines the Wildland/Urban Interface (where civilization and undeveloped lands meet), wildfire behavior, defensible space, pre-planning, and evacuation. Part A is “Awareness and Prevention”. Part B is titled “The Approaching Wildfire!”, and Part C is “Citizen Wildland Fire Preparedness & Basic Concepts”. (There is no instructor guide.)
- Introduction to CERT. This is an abbreviated version of the CERT Course that can be completed online. It does not qualify you to join a CERT group, nor does it offer hands-on practice, but it is a good basic introduction to the subject.
There are other useful publications.
The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is based at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Among other things, they provide independent study courses to anyone who is interested. The course material can be downloaded free. You can, if you want, officially enroll, read the material, pass the online test, and receive Continuing Education (CE) and sometimes college credits.
EMI provides training materials for both professional responders and laymen, so not all of their publications are applicable to John Q public. I would recommend you start with the following:
- Decision Making and Problem Solving. (134 pages) It’s pretty self explanatory, I think. I found this book very helpful in organizing my planning and being able to prioritize. Topics covered include the decision making process and styles, traits and ethics of good decision makers.
- Effective Communication. (156 pages) This covers accurate communication, both oral and written, which is the single most important facet of operation and is always the weakest link in any operation. Messages are often garbled, lost, misunderstood, insulting, contradictory, mangled or badly presented (or all of the above), sometimes with disastrous effects. This manual teaches communication basics and ways to improve your communication and listening skills. Very easy to read- putting it into practice is hard work!
- Leadership and Influence. (180 pages) This training manual starts with the concept “leader, know thyself”; know your own strengths, weaknesses, thought processes, and motivations. Topics include important leadership concepts, such as building trust, introducing change, and negotiating. It includes self-assessments, case studies, and activities. You should read the two manuals above before starting this one.
- ICS 100. (about 84 pages) The Incident Command System (ICS) is a flexible organizational and operations framework that was developed by the United States Navy and modified to manage wildfire and then expanded to include all disaster management and Search and Rescue response. This has evolved into the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which was developed after 9 /11 and is now the national standard for disaster management. ICS can be modified to work for any group– even your own household. For a general history go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incident_Command_System.
These manuals can all be downloaded from http://training.fema.gov/IS/ Click on the course list and scroll down until you find the listings for the above manuals.
Another useful resource can be found at http://www.cert-la.com/education/preparedness.htm. This is the website for the Los Angeles CERT. They have many downloadable documents on preparedness and disaster response. It is well worth your time to visit this site.
I would suggest you make hard copies. There are better than 1500 pages of information available. I’d go to a local copy shop rather than use my home printer. Request double-sided copies, since it reduces paper use, cost, and bulk on the bookshelf. I watch for binders and folders at the thrift stores, which are much cheaper than buying new, and label each one.
Now that you’ve downloaded the files, printed everything out, and studied every word, the hard part begins– putting it all into practice. Don’t be discouraged, if things don’t immediately fall into place. Skills have to be developed by and adapted to the individual. Results must be constantly sized-up and new habits formed. It will come as you learn to recognize what theory or concept fits where and how it applies to real life.