Bill Firestone was Florida’s first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program coordinator from 1998-2001 (under new FEMA head Craig Fugate). Firestone now runs a consultancy EM Training.Â He is also a reader of the blog and sent me an email reacting to Fugate’s comment I wrote about urging CERT members to be “ambassadors” in their communities. As Firestone is experienced at all levels of emergency management, I asked him if he would contribute his thoughts on CERT and citizen volunteering:
“I live in Florida and was the State CERT Coordinator for several years and a 25-year history, prior to that, volunteering and as a chapter employee for the American Red Cross. Although I have “moved on”, I still follow CERT, with a particular interest in how urban teams and programs are maintained. In the “resource rich” environment of the urban areas where governments routinely use mutual aid and there is a large number of support agencies and non-profits, it’s extremely challenging to find meaningful roles for CERT volunteers.
In a recent blog post, new FEMA administrator and former State of Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate, in responding to the question on CERT, said he believed that CERTers are disaster preparedness ambassadors. While it’s very unlikely that most CERTers will participate in a mass casualty triage or perform in pairs in fire suppression, CERTers will talk to their neighbor, participate in their children’s schools, attend neighborhood activities. Consequently, they can reach out to people that government and non-profit preparedness messages cannot reach or it is too expensive. I believe that the role of “ambassador” is a good fit for CERT.Â Your blog shows CERTers participating at tables in neighborhood activities and other outreach to spread the preparedness message and my guess is that the new FEMA director’s words will translate into a direction of encourage that.
In my role as a “CERTer”, here in Florida, I am reaching out to neighbors and talking to them about the network of non-profits in disaster and the importance of knowing what services and assistance they can provide before and after disaster. Here in hurricane-prone Florida I have begun to send along the url for information about the importance of completing an SBA loan application and how that is tied to receiving additional disaster assistance. Most of my neighbors that have incurred damages to their house have been told about the low-interest loans following disaster, but not aware of the other benefits to completing the application.
I am interested in how others, especially in urban areas, how other CERT-trained individuals and teams are fulfilling the ‘ambassador’ role.”
I agree with Firestone. I think he suggests correctly that more emphasis be put on the importance of what Fugate called the “ambassador” role, citizens educating and motivating other citizens. Here in New York City, there has been an effort to do so by offering the type ofÂ public speaking and cultural awareness advancedÂ training I recently completed.
Firestone also believes it is key that CERT follow the long-standing volunteer “rule” that the volunteer must see the good from donating his work. There is a laudable effort by New York’s Office of Emergency Management to celebrate members with certificates, events and thanks from the boss. However, I think that designating us as “ambassadors” and increasing our profile in the community and the amount of interaction we have with fellow citizens (usually through public education and other outreach events) makes a lot of sense. A key to CERT (like any volunteer effort) is trying to help provide meaning to the volunteers to sustain long-term involvement, which is what Firestone is advocating for and is also what I try to do on this blog.
p.s. Firestone recommends The Disaster Handbook from the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension as “my favorite disaster preparedness reference”. It has now been put on the web and can be found here.