CERT Catch and Release Is Not the Way to Go

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) need care and feeding.

by Eric Holdeman / January 15, 2019

The Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) is a wonderful concept for providing training on basic emergency responder skills to average citizens. Some jurisdictions and emergency managers may have the wrong concept when it comes to conducting CERT training and maintaining an active CERT program.

It is not enough to recruit individuals into signing up and receiving training. The real power of those trained individuals is when they continue to hone their individual skills and combine them with the skills of others in a team environment. 

The biggest gripe that CERT trained staff have is not having follow-on activities that keep them engaged. People not engaged will have the skills that they learned atrophy and the energy and enthusiasm that they once had also fade away. 

To keep CERT people engaged requires commitment on the part of emergency managers and their program staff. It has to be one of the priorities. CERT leadership could be a volunteer position. You just need to provide the care and feeding of the program to give them meaningful tasks — like in supporting community events. 

One last comment that was just shared with me on the above topic. If you have an active CERT program, be willing for trained CERT individuals from other jurisdictions to join you and your teams if they don't have any other recourse available to them. Doing so is not poaching from others, they, after all, have just had a "catch and release" approach to CERT volunteers. 

Now three days after posting the above, I got the following comment below on my LinkedIn feed. It summarizes many of the other comments that have been sent my way. Certainly it is a call to re-look how you run your CERT program. I don't recommend a barbless hook approach!

Sherilyn Burris, MPA FPEM CEM
Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction Consultant

I worked for an organization that had a list of almost 800 people who received the CERT training but no plan to ever use them -- not even any way to contact them. Short-sighted emergency management programs believe a paper certificate is a magic bullet but in real life, these programs require ongoing and dedicated work. Your article is spot on! The program is all "lights and sirens" (or bandaids and household fire extinguishers). It is "a good start" but needs expanded in order to be functional, effective, and useful. I'd love to see CERT grow into tangible disaster recovery and resilience.