The CERT curriculum educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their areas and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, the Incident Command System and disaster medical operations. With this training under their belts, CERT-trained individuals can assist themselves, their families, and others in their neighborhood following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also help in non-disaster times by giving talks in the community about disaster preparedness and working on other preparedness projects.
Currently there are about 60 teams across North Carolina, many of which are sponsored by fire departments. As Apex Fire Chief Keith McGee states, “Involvement with a community that understands the services and complexities of emergency preparedness and emergency assistance can’t be under-valued. Having a group of citizens willing to donate their time and efforts strengthens the fire department and is a tremendous benefit.”
Apex launched its CERT in 2010, thanks to the determination of Battalion Chief Mike Beasley, who taught the first 21-hour class himself to a group of six interested citizens. Since then the group has largely taken on the training themselves. Two members took the Train-the-Trainer class offered through N.C. Emergency Management, and, while they bring Chief Beasley back to teach the Fire Safety and Utility Controls chapter, they have run with the program. More than 100 individuals have completed CERT training in Apex, and they have a roster of 30 people who have stayed involved on the team.
Even if citizens don’t become part of an organized team, those are still individuals out in the community who have a better-than-average understanding of hazard mitigation and disaster response, which makes the whole town safer. So safe that Apex’s neighboring town of Cary recently went from an ISO rating of three to one, thanks in part to their active CERT giving them 5.5 bonus points for Community Risk Reduction, according to Ed Moore, Cary Fire Assistant Chief of Training and Safety. As a result of Cary’s reclassification to a Class One town, the community could see as much as a million-dollar savings in insurance premiums. According to Chief Moore, “Every home, street and neighborhood with someone who is prepared helps us do our job better.” Cary launched its CERT program in 2005, and has trained over 400 individuals. They have used the team to assist with missing person calls, to staff the EOC during inclement weather and more. They are currently looking at training the CERT in Firefighter Rehab to provide assistance at large incidents.
All of the CERT training curriculum is available free from FEMA (see http://fema.gov/cert ). While the fire and medical chapters need to be delivered by professionals, there are lots of retired firefighters and EMTs who love the opportunity to stay engaged as volunteers. Some CERTs become separate non-profits and are able to fund themselves by soliciting donations, and some are part of Home Owners Associations that provide them a yearly budget. But many more operate on little or no budget at all. The most important expenditure is for personal protective equipment for team members, and many teams ask individuals to purchase this themselves. And they do.
Why are people so willing to take time out of their already-busy lives for a 21-hour class plus monthly trainings? Why are people willing to purchase their own PPE? In a nutshell, it comes down to the American spirit of volunteerism. This great country was founded, “by the people, for the people,” and even in 2015; there are individuals who recognize the necessity of giving back to their communities. What they get out of their involvement in CERT is a sense of belonging to, as well as giving back to their communities, but there is something even bigger: they gain the empowerment of how to help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the wake of a disaster, and that could be a matter of life and death.
According to the 2012 census, the population of North Carolina was upward of 9.7 million, and it has not stopped growing. Our dedicated first-responders work hard and do all they can for us, but there are only about 51,000 firefighters (paid and volunteer) in the state, along with 40,000 EMT/Paramedics and 23,000 law enforcement officers. These numbers alone point to the necessity for CERT!
If you are interested in learning more about CERT, or finding out if there is already a team near you, or in starting a team, I would be more than happy to talk with you. I travel all over North Carolina teaching classes and helping communities get teams off the ground. I am the N.C. CERT Program Coordinator, and I work for N.C. Emergency Management. While federal funding for CERT is less than in previous years, we are committed to supporting this initiative. We just need to hear from you.