Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What can a CERT do for your community?


Have you ever heard the term “CERT” tossed around and not known what it really means or what these teams can do for community associations around our State?

Since we are now in the very middle of the most active part of our Hurricane Season, I have included below frequently asked questions and answers regarding a Community Emergency Response Team or CERT.

Q: What is CERT?
A: The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

Q: How can CERT benefit your community?
A: People who go through CERT training have a better understanding of the potential threats to their home, workplace and community and can take the right steps to lessen the effects of these hazards on themselves, their homes or workplace. If a disaster happens that overwhelms local response capability, CERT members can apply the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to give critical support to their family, loved ones, neighbors or associates in their immediate area until professional help arrives. When help does arrive, CERTs provide useful information to responders and support their efforts, as directed, at the disaster site. CERT members can also assist with non-emergency projects that improve the safety of the community. CERTs have been used to distribute and/or install smoke alarms, replace smoke alarm batteries in the homes of the elderly, distribute disaster education material, provide services at special events, such as parades, sporting events, concerts and more.

Q: Is there a CERT near me?
A: There are 224 CERT programs in the State of Florida, one of the largest concentrations in the country.
Please click here to view those programs.

Q: How do we start a CERT program?
A: 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. The outcome of these discussions can range from education programs to an active training program like CERT that prepares participants to be part of the community’s response capability following major disasters. It is also important to develop a plan that covers training, maintenance and activation standards as well as administrative requirements like databases and funding. This plan will act as a guide so that one can evaluate the program and make adjustments.

Q: How is the CERT funded?
A: Congress has provided funds through the Citizen Corps program to the States and Territories. Grants from these funds may be available to local communities to start CERT programs. Contact your State Citizen Corps point of contact to learn more about grant possibilities. Also, there are a variety of local approaches to funding. Some communities build costs into their local budget while others charge participants to attend training to cover costs for instructors and course materials. In a few communities, CERT organizations have formed 501 (C) 3 for non-profit status to allow them to do fundraising and seek corporate donations.

Q: What about liability?
A: The text of the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 is available online. Also there is information about State Liability Laws located on the Citizen Corps website. During training, each sponsoring agency should brief its CERT members about their responsibilities as a CERT member and volunteer. Finally, there is a job aid on liability for you to review in our Start a CERT Program section. The CERT material was developed by the Los Angeles City Fire Department and adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1993. The CERT manual contains basic and straightforward material that has been accepted by those using it as the standard for training. It is important to remember that the best sources of help in emergencies are professional responders. However, in situations when they are not immediately available, people will want to act and help. CERT training teaches skills that people can use to safely help while waiting for responders.

For more information, please visit the Florida Citizen Corps website at: http://www.floridadisaster.org/citizencorps/

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