BASEHOR, Kan. - Congress has provided funds through the Citizen Corps to assist local communities in quick response to emergency situations--particularly when first responders may be overwhelmed. These local programs, called Community Emergency Response Teams, allow groups of trained citizens to literally "care for themselves" by being first on the scene when disaster strikes. They're able to self organize and provide immediate assistance to their friends and neighbors while waiting for first responders. A multi-part training program is available, free of charge, to those who are interested.
According to the CERT FAQ section,
Q: Why take the CERT training?
A: Local government prepares for everyday emergencies. However, there can be an emergency or disaster that can overwhelm the community's immediate response capability. While adjacent jurisdictions, State and Federal resources can activate to help, there may be a delay for them getting to those who need them. The primary reason for CERT training is to give people the decision-making, organizational, and practical skills to offer immediate assistance to family members, neighbors, and associates while waiting for help. While people will respond to others in need without the training, the goal of the CERT program is to help people do so effectively and efficiently without placing themselves in unnecessary danger.
A success story about CERTs comes from events during the wildfires in Florida. The Edgewater CERT helped emergency management and the fire department personnel by assisting with evacuation; handling donations; preparing food for firefighters; and answering the phone while the professionals were fighting the fire. This is a great example of CERT members and response personnel working together for the benefit of the community.
CERT programs are a collaboration between citizens and their local governments. Again, according to the CERT FAQ,
CERT requires a partnership between community members and local government, emergency management and response agencies. The program does take a commitment of time and resources from all parties. Interested community members should discuss with local government and emergency management officials ways to improve their community's preparedness capability and how they can be involved.
I recently completed the basic CERT program in Wyandotte County, and found it to be excellent training for citizens in the skill of how to look out for themselves in an emergency. If you're interested in CERT programs in your area, there is a list of Kansas CERT programs that are currently operating.
The beauty of CERT is that you can do as much, or as little, as you wish. You can take the basic training and do nothing further, and yet have the knowledge and skill to help yourself and your friends if a disaster happens in your neighborhood. Or, you can get formally involved in a CERT team, which may be formally "called up" to help in an emergency situation. These call ups might involve CERT members traveling to a neighboring county or city to assist with numerous emergency assistance tasks. CERT teams regularly train together several times each year, so members get to know each other, rely on each other, and understand each person's strengths and capacities for help.
If you're interested in the structure of CERT and the national Incident Command System , there are many resources available. A great place to start is with with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's free online introductory course.
When a major disaster happens, there are never enough first responders to take care of everything. CERT programs help citizens take care of themselves until help arrives, and can literally mean the difference between life and death.