Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When 911 Isn't Coming: Community Emergency Response

We've all seen a movie or read a book where the rugged protagonist fights his or her way through a caustic post-apocalyptic landscape, banding together with others in similarly dire situations. Urgency and adrenaline often drive the plot, but it is always tapered with a sense of wonder — what must it feel like to strike out on your own with little to no guidance? What would a society with no structure look like, and how might we survive when there is no one else to call on?

You don't need to wait until the end of the world to ask these questions. Real disasters happen every day — and sometimes these disasters can become massively disruptive for emergency services. In many situations, this can leave you and everyone in your neighborhood to fend for yourselves in a dangerous environment for an extended period of time. But when 911 isn't there to help, who is?

By training as a member of your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the answer could quite easily be you.

What is a Community Emergency Response Team?

In short, a Community Emergency Response Team is a group of community members that train to support emergency or disaster response operations in the case that emergency services become overwhelmed. While CERT members are not actively involved with emergency services during everyday operations, these volunteers are a vital asset to first responders across the country.

The CERT program was officially created in 1993 when FEMA made training available across the entire United States. As a result, local teams began sprouting up immediately. The idea was that a better educated populace could more effectively save themselves, their families, and others from the consequences of a disaster — therefore contributing to the overall wellness of an affected area. The training program focuses on an all-hazard approach, covering subjects from light search and rescue to disaster medical treatment. Most importantly, it focuses on providing the greatest good for the greatest number.

Why should I join my local CERT?

The training not only allows an individual to become a leader in the wake of a disaster, but also a leader in everyday life. By learning skills such as organizing a response team, recognizing and treating life threatening emergencies, and making decisions under pressure, you can develop into a vital resource for your community.

After completing the basic training, your local team might also offer courses that delve into different topics such as emergency radio communications, wide-area searches, and disaster map and compass techniques. If interested, volunteers can often train to become instructors or help out with various operational functions within the team.

In addition, CERT training is an excellent gateway into volunteering in a greater capacity with emergency services. CERT volunteers are not a deployable resource, serving for the most part as a passive asset for disaster response, but the training offers insight into the world of firefighting and emergency medical services. With an emphasis on light search and rescue, CERT classes can also prepare a trainee to join a state-registered search and rescue team.

Where can I find resources to learn more about CERT?

The best way to learn more is to go straight to the source: your local team. By entering your zip code into FEMA's CERT tracker, you can find which teams are closest to you and learn how to join. You can also click here to view more about the training, and how the program continues to be a useful asset across the United States.

In the end, joining your local team is as good for your own development as it is for the community. You will develop leadership skills, learn how to help your family and friends in a disaster, and figure out just how versatile duct tape can be. Make a difference in the way your community responds to disasters tomorrow — join your local CERT today.

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse and is reprinted with permission. The next Fairfax County CERT training (Class 127) starts May 22, Mondays & Wednesdays at the Fire & Rescue Academy in Fairfax. Limited space for this free training is still available — for more information and to register, please visit http://bitly.com/CERT127.]

Matthew Martinez is a digital marketer and graduate of Fairfax County CERT Class 121.