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Attention CERT Members: Send Me Your Feedback On The Program — How Is It Going? What’s Working? What Isn’t? How Could It Be Improved? Any Messages For FEMA?

May 26th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Last month, I wrote a post, “As 25th Birthday Approaches, Is It Time To Reevaluate CERT’s Role, Management, Training, Resources, Etc.?”, discussing the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program (which I participate in here in New York City). I was prompted to write it by another post on the blog Homeland Security Watch in which Mark Chubb, a “senior civil servant in an emergency management agency,” recounted discovering the frustrations of the CERT members he met with in Virginia. He concluded the post with this caution to his fellow preparedness officials about the program:

The opportunity cost of ignoring volunteers in exchange for making investments in hardware and software rears its ugly head sooner or later. Eventually, disgruntled if not disorganized volunteers will, as ours did Monday night, remind you that the liveware — the people and relationships that make up a community — are assets to be invested in not just protected or neglected.

In the comment section of my original post (3rd one down), Paul Garth, a CERT member from Ojai, California and organizer of the OjaiOK drill, took exception to what he read about his Virginia colleagues. Garth’s overall point:

“If someone is frustrated and angry, then my question is, “what are you going to do about it?”. Success for any volunteer organization requires a bottom-up grass-roots approach with local membership providing continual positive energy and infinite new ideas being generated. FEMA and the Los Angeles FD can only create the concept of CERT and give moral support — the rest is up to us.”

From different perspectives, Chubb and Garth both describe both the promise of and the challenges facing the CERT program. I know it’s a topic of interest to readers of this blog. (And is timely as CERTs are being deployed to assist in the oil spill response effort).

So, as the program approaches its 25th Anniversary, I thought I would ask my fellow CERT members for their feedback on the program: How is it going? What’s working? What isn’t? How could it be improved? Is there a message about CERT program you’d like to communicate to other teams around the U.S., FEMA, elected officials or the general public?

I will post the responses on the blog and will ask FEMA leadership for their thoughts as well. Either email me at or write in the Comment section below. Thanks.

Community Emergency Response Team training

A CERT training session in Apple Valley, California

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Tags: CERT · Federal Emergency Management Administration

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michelle L. // May 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Hi John,
    I’m a CERT program coordinator from Minnesota. I have 75 CERT members from our communities that the police department serves. One of the most effective ways to keep folks interested and involved seems to be by giving them ownership in the program, and I’ve found that by making teams within the team, we find niches for people. For example, I’m usually trying to run the exercises or courses, so I don’t have time to take photographs, which is a great way to document what we’ve done. Since it wasn’t getting done, I thought I’d ask my team if anyone has a good camera and would like to take photos at these events, in addition to reporting as CERT. I had an overwhelming response, thus creating a “documenting” team. This did three main things: It got people to come back for trainings that I hadn’t heard from in awhile to do their photographer role, but also work as CERT members, it gave me someone to take on this role, and it addresses the person’s particular interest they have outside of CERT and couple it with their involvement in CERT. I also, in a disaster situation, see these folks as the first ones out there getting pictures ASAP after an event for documentation of damage… the opportunities seem endless.

    We have also done this with a “communications” team who is in charge of designing training to help our team communicate better with our without radios of some sort, we have an “animal” team for those who love animals and would be interested in helping them in particular in a disaster. We have a volunteer management team, who we plan to train to take on “emergent volunteers”, credential them, etc. And now perhaps a “shelter management” team who will be trained in shelter operations to work alongside the Red Cross.

    Maybe this is something others are already doing, but I’m glad I finally figured it out!

    Thanks, Michelle

  • 2 Daniel // May 27, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I am a member of a CERT in the Mid West. I think that the initial training is great and should be required of all high school seniors before graduation. I got involved when my company offered to have the CERT trainers come and give the classes to anyone in the company that were interested. I think that this is a good way to ensure that communities get the people involved and ensures that there are qualified people at businesses as well. This made the availability of training space and people less of a hassle. The on going training is great too.

  • 3 Robert Ross // May 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I have seen other local CERT teams suffer as budgets have evaporated in sponsor agencies.

    What seems to happen is that training time from the sponsor agency all but dries up. When faced with laying off a first responder or removing OT for CERT training, the choice is obvious.

    A lot of the things we have seen in the city of Sacramento that seems to be keeping us together through these difficult economic times comes from the confidence of our sponsor agency in our ability to run our own program. For example, we have our own volunteer instructors – trained by the Train-The-Trainer class put on by the University of Michigan. We have our own cadre of trainers that can conduct the basic CERT class from start to finish. This frees up the FD budget and allows us to continue the program.

    Additionally, we draw specialties from our own ranks to offer other training courses. We have a retired CHP officer who puts on a “Techniques of Traffic Control” class…we have an ASHI trainer who offers us Medical First Responder training…and ex-military members who offer map reading, land navigation and other classes.

    By drawing on our own resources, we’ve made a ‘tiered’ system…the basic CERT graduate (Level I), then members who have taken the ARC classes on sheltering and completed NIMS/SEMS training and a background check are Level II, and members who complete the Medical First Responder or who have a Title 22 rating or higher are Level III.

    By having these advanced levels, we have been able to further help the FD. An example is that our FD used to have the budget to offer first aid support to events like fund raising walks, tournaments and others. Now that we have a state-wide recognized level of training, we can provide that coverage for the FD.

    Another idea for teams is to work your message to other city/county agencies – let them know you exist and that you have ‘boots on the ground’ that can be called upon. Our area is the new ‘New Orleans’ of flood risk with our aging levee system. We have reached out to the Department of Water Resources and they have responded by offering us classes on containing boils, flood fighting and even supported us for a flood drill. Contacting your local health agency can get you in the door for Point of Distribution training, allowing you to help with things like H1N1 clinics. Be sure your local fire training agency knows about you – they often need live victims for training.

    Even work outside your area. We recently sent communications assets to a neighboring county to assist them in their biannual MCI training.

    As for what isn’t working within CERT, I’d have to say what I’m sure every one else is saying – funding. What would help every CERT team in the country would be to have some way to help with maybe tax deductions. With the current tax laws, companies that want to donate to us (from small donations all the way up to vehicles) can’t because once we register as a non-profit, we lose key monies from our FD.

    Basically, I echo the sentiment of ‘take control’ of your group. You have dedicated people who take the course and want to do good. Let your sponsor agency guide you, but let your own members do more heavy lifting. It’s worked great on our team! And to the Feds, we need help to get the support that the public and private sectors want to offer us. Help us help you!

  • 4 Claire B. Rubin // May 29, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Problems keeping CERT volunteers interested and active seem to be linked with the general public apathy toward preparedness. Sadly, the CERT volunteers are aware of the need for preparedness but they operate in an environment that is not supportive of them.

  • 5 Carla // Jun 4, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    HI, I am a member of a Cert Team in NJ. I just think Cert should be allowed to do more. Somehow get a traffic course so we can direct traffic. With the towns on such a strict budget right now the police could use help in this area. Also use your Cert Teams for everything you can. Functions the town is having like Graduations, parades, fairs ect. Not just for emergencies. It helps to get the Cert Members out there and doing things.

  • 6 JASON // Jun 13, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Getting more teams in the county I reside in. We only have three so far. Plus I am trying to get a team up and running with no support or no real help from the local Emergency Management here.

  • 7 Bruce Curley // Jul 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    To help others learn about CERT activities, I posted several exercises on my blog and on Google’s Knol. Here are some links.

    Given how much EPLEX cost, I took pains to provide photos, videos, plans, strategy, etc. so other CERT members in less well off areas that do not sponsor such large exercises can benefit from this exercise.

    Having worked in civil defense and emergency management in the 1980s, not much has changed in one sense…in a big one…you and your family are on your own. Understand that and you will survive.

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