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Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors such as the number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment's notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life saving and life sustaining needs.
One also expects that under these kinds of conditions, family members, fellow employees, and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each other. This was the case following the Mexico City earthquake where untrained, spontaneous volunteers saved 800 people. However, 100 people lost their lives while attempting to save others. This is a high price to pay and is preventable through training.
This is one of the reasons that CERT was formed. CERT training presents citizens with the facts about what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate services. Second, training gives the message about their responsibility for mitigation and preparedness. Third, CERT trains volunteers in needed life saving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Fourth, CERT teams are organized so that they are an extension of first responder services offering immediate help to victims until professional services arrive.
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees.
The training program that LAFD initiated makes good sense and furthers the process of citizens understanding their responsibility in preparing for disaster. It also increases their ability to safely help themselves, their family and their neighbors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials believing them applicable to all hazards.
The CERT course will benefit any citizen who takes it. This individual will be better prepared to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business, and government teams that, in essence, will be auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. Since 1993 when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities in 28 States and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training.
FEMA supports CERT by conducting or sponsoring Train The Trainer (TTT) sessions for members of the fire, medical, and emergency management community. The objectives of the TTT are to prepare attendees to promote this training in their community, conduct TTT's at their location, conduct training sessions for neighborhood, business and industry, and government groups, and organize teams with which first responders can interface following a major disaster.
At recent CERT training, Fire Department instructor, Kyle Hauducoeur demonstrated proper initial first aid care to a simulated injured earthquake victim.
Once participants have completed their CERT training, they stay involved and practiced in their skills. Periodic refresher sessions and drills are used to reinforce their basic training. CERT often sponsors events such as picnics, neighborhood clean up, homeowner education, booths at community events, and tables at disaster education fairs. These not only keep CERT members involved and trained, but these activities are used to educate residents in the community.
CERT is often used as a component of any local disaster drills and response activities by Fire and Medical first responders. This helps to keep CERT skills in state of constant readiness to serve the community best.