News & Events

An emergency preparedness Q&A: introduction to “CERT”

Q: I’m hearing nurses talk about CERT training. What is it?
A: CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team Training. The CERT concept was developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985, recognizing that citizens will very likely be on their own in the early stages of a disaster. A major California earthquake in 1987 further underscored that basic training in disaster survival and rescue skills could improve the chances of people surviving until help arrives. As we all saw from Hurricane Katrina emergency response failures last fall, the cavalry can be a long time coming.

CERT training is designed to help individuals, families and neighbors all pitch in and help themselves and others to survive a catastrophic disaster. Participants also learn to work as a community “team.”

Q: How does CERT work?
A: As each CERT becomes organized and trained, and in accordance with standard operating procedures developed by the sponsoring agency in the community, its members select a team leader and an alternate. Members also identify a meeting location, or staging area, to be used in the event of a disaster. The staging area is where the local fire department and other services—emergency responders, etc.—will interact with CERTs. Creating this centralized contact point in advance makes it possible to communicate damage assessments and allocate volunteer resources most effectively.

Members are taught, in the event of a disaster, to assess their own needs and those of their own environment first. Runners to staging areas get help from available resources. Ham and CB radio links may also be utilized for communication and coordination. Trained volunteers are also utilized to provide shelter support, crowd control, and evacuation assistance. The CERT program can provide an effective first-response capability with the power to help save lives and protect property.

Q: Who offers CERT training? And how does it work?
A: In 1994, the federal government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency expanded the California program to a national one, making it available to communities nationwide. Check with your local community fire department for CERT training in your area. For more information about emergency preparedness, contact Mary Crotty at 781.830.5743 or via email at or Chris Pontus.

Betty Sparks, an MNA Board member, is currently participating in the nine-week CERT training.