Although the main responders in natural disasters are emergency management officials, they cannot be everywhere at once. Highly trained volunteers provide a backup force to help those in their community during times of crisis. Thus, FEMA organized the CERT program to provide a cadre of national volunteers trained in emergency response.
Officially known as the Community Emergency Response Team, this program educates volunteers about hazards that are likely to strike their community. It trains them in basic disaster responses such as providing medical aid, organizing teams, and performing light search and rescue. Then in times of crisis, these volunteers can help others in their neighborhoods or workplaces before professional responders arrive.
Since the type of disasters likely to strike an area vary throughout the country, the CERT program focuses on regional problems. For instance, emergency responders in Florida are busy preparing for the 2015 hurricane season with on eye on Lakewood Ranch—a planned community in southern Florida.
Its CERT program is seeking to grow from 250 to 300 volunteers to be ready in case a hurricane strikes the area. Lakewood Ranch is inland, and authorities expect emergency responders to be deployed to hard-hit areas such as the flood zones and coastal islands first. The Lakewood Ranch CERT team could provide basic first aid to members of the community before emergency responders arrive.
On the other side of the country, earthquakes are a constant threat. Thus, the CERT programs in California focus on preparations for these types of disasters. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the Bay Area, the San Francisco Fire Department formed NERT—the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team modeled after LA’s CERT program. As a result, more than 25,000 residents of the city are trained to respond to emergencies. When the next earthquake hits, these volunteers are ready to help their families and neighbors.
With over 2,200 registered CERT programs throughout the US and Virgin Islands, dedicated citizens provide a ready base to assist emergency management officials in times of crisis.