Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate lifesaving and life sustaining needs. One also expects that under these kinds of conditions, family members, fellow employees and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each other. This was the case following the Mexico City earthquake where untrained, spontaneous volunteers saved 800 people. However, 100 people lost their lives while attempting to save others. This is a high price to pay and is preventable through training. If we can predict that emergency services will not meet immediate needs following a major disaster, especially if there is no warning as in an earthquake and people will spontaneously volunteer, what can government do to prepare citizens for this eventuality? First, present citizens the facts about what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate services. Second, give the message about their responsibility for mitigation and preparedness. Third, train them in needed lifesaving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescuer safety and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Fourth, organize teams so that they are an extension of first responder services offering immediate help to victims until professional services arrive.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept was developed and implemented by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. They recognized that citizens would very likely be on their own during the early stages of a catastrophic disaster. Accordingly, LAFD decided that some basic training in disaster survival and rescue skills would improve the ability of citizens to survive and to safely help others until responders or other assistance could arrive.
Building on this development, in 1994 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expanded the CERT materials to make them applicable to all hazards and made the program available to communities nationwide. Since that time, thousands of dedicated trainers, organizations, and citizens have embraced the responsibility to learn new skills and become prepared to execute safe and effective emergency response.
In FEMA’s and the State of Utah Department of Emergency Management structures CERT falls under the umbrella of the Citizen Corps program as one of the Corps 5 pillar programs (CERT, Fire Corps, USA on Watch, Medical Reserve Corps, and Volunteers in Police Service). CERT is a critical program in the effort to engage everyone in Box Elder County in making our community safer, more prepared, and more resilient when incidents occur.
Effective response requires comprehensive planning and coordination of all who will be involved ¾ individuals, government, volunteer groups, private businesses, schools, and community organizations. With training and information, individuals and community groups can be prepared to serve as a crucial resource capable of performing many of the emergency functions needed in the immediate post-disaster period. The CERT Program is designed to train individuals to be assets to help communities prepare for disaster, effectively respond to disaster, and therefore recover faster from disaster.
CERT in Box Elder County
In Box Elder County we have 7 registered CERT programs in our communities. The County, under the direction of the Emergency Manager, supports and offers assistance to these programs. The County also helps train and organize CERTs in non-incorporated areas of the County and those jurisdictions without their own organized programs.
The County has organized the Box Elder County CERT Coordination Council and has invited representatives from each jurisdiction of the County to join the council. The council has a Coordination Council Chairperson who is appointed by and works under the direction of the County Emergency Manager.
The County is represented at the state level with a representative that is a member of the State of Utah Region 1 CERT Council.
When Disaster Strikes
The damage caused by (1) natural disasters, such as earthquakes, extreme heat, flooding, mudslides, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions, wildfires, winter storms or from (2) technological events such as explosions or hazardous materials accidents (3) Intentional such as terrorism using chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive weapons can affect all aspects of a community, from government services to private enterprise to civic activities. These events:
- Severely restrict or overwhelm our response resources, communications, transportation, and utilities
- Leave many individuals and neighborhoods cut off from outside support
Damaged roads and disrupted communications systems may restrict the access of emergency response agencies into critically affected areas. Thus, for the initial period immediately following a disaster ¾ often up to 4 days or longer ¾ individuals, households, neighborhoods, and workplaces may need to rely on their own resources for: Food, Water, First aid, and Shelter
Individual preparedness, planning, survival skills, and mutual aid within neighborhoods and worksites during this initial period are essential measures in coping with the aftermath of a disaster. What you do today will have a critical impact on the quality of your survival and your ability to help others safely and effectively. By learning about your community’s plans and protocols, understanding hazard-specific protective actions and response skills, assembling important emergency supplies, and mitigating potential hazards in your home, you will be more resilient to any disruptive event. You will be an important asset to your family, neighbors, and other members of your community.
If available, emergency services personnel are the best trained and equipped to handle emergencies. Following a catastrophic disaster, however, you and the community will most likely be on your own for a period of time.
Because emergency services personnel will not be able to help everyone immediately, you can make a difference by using your CERT training to save lives and protect property.
While CERTs are a valuable asset in emergency response, CERTs are not trained to perform all of the functions or respond to the same degree as professional responders. CERTs are a bridge to professional responders until they are able to arrive.