Community / Citizen Emergency Response Team Background Information
Members of neighborhoods (also known as NETs, Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams) form Community / Citizen Emergency Response Teams or groups. This also includes workplaces who want to be better prepared for the hazards that threaten their communities.
Beyond Disaster Response
Initially, CERT programs were developed to assist communities in taking care of themselves in the aftermath of a major disaster when first responders are overwhelmed by the number of emergency call and/or unable to respond to the number of call at the same time due to staffing limitations. As the CERT concept has taken hold across the country, CERTs have become much more than originally envisioned. CERTs have proven themselves an active and vital part of their communities' preparedness and response capability. For example, CERTs have been used to:
- Distribute and/or install smoke alarms and batteries to the elderly and disabled.
- Assist with evacuations and traffic control.
- Promote community awareness of potential hazards and preparedness measures.
- Supplement staffing at special events, such as parades and calibrations.
- Act as victims in training exercises conducted by emergency responders.
- Staff and setup shelters for families displaced during disasters
CERTs are an investment of local government's time and resources. To capitalize on this investment, program sponsors can view CERT members as a volunteer resource that can assist with public safety activities. Such an approach will actively involve members in serving their communities beyond disaster response and add value to the CERT program.
CERT Standards and Protocols
The best source of help in an emergency or disaster is the paid or volunteer professional responder. However, if they are not available or are delayed in their response due to the large number of emergency calls for assistance during a disaster, CERT members can help. CERTs are not intended to replace a community's response capability, but rather, to serve as an important supplement to it.
The Fire, Emergency Management and Police Departments sponsoring the CERT program are creating a volunteer resource that is part of the community's operational capability following a disaster. Those agencies have training standards for CERT personnel and protocols for their activation and use.
CERT members must keep their safety in mind as their first priority. CERT volunteers must know their capabilities and the limitations of their training and equipment and work within those limitations.
CERTs do NOT:
- Suppress or work with large fires.
- Enter structures that they consider damaged and dangerous by emergency responders.
- Perform hazardous materials cleanup or respond to incidents involving radiological, chemical, or biological agents.
- Perform medical, fire, or search and rescue operations beyond their level of training.
- Activate or deploy unless called for in their procedures.
CERTs are considered "Good Samaritans" and covered under the Volunteer Protection Act. CERT volunteers do not have any authority beyond serving as "Good Samaritan" when helping others.
When deployed appropriately, however, CERTs can complement and enhance emergency first-response capability in neighborhoods and workplaces by ensuring the safety of themselves and their families working outward to the neighborhood or office and beyond until first responders arrive. CERTs can then assist emergency first-response personnel as directed.