Predisaster community organizing can pay big dividends if integrated with emergency management systems.
One of the persistent disaster myths is that people wait to be taken care of by the government. However, both research and experience show that people are proactive in times of disaster, reaching out to neighbors and even total strangers to offer help. This concept of people helping people forms the core of the Community Emergency Response Team program that was elevated to a national initiative following Sept. 11. However, are we doing enough to integrate the potential utility of these programs into disaster response operations?
This is the question asked by researchers Dr. Jessica Jensen and John Carr in a recent article in the Journal of Emergency Management, Predisaster Integration of Community Emergency Response Teams. In a study of CERT coordinators in FEMA Region VII (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska), Jensen and Carr looked at the level of integration of CERTs with the local emergency management systems. They found that the level of integration (defined as recognition of the CERT as part of the formal local emergency management system) fell roughly into three categories:
There was also a small number of teams studied that received CERT training and then were passed on for integration into other organizations (e.g., Civil Air Patrol or the American Red Cross).
As Jensen and Carr note, the study is not intended to be generalizable to the full CERT population. However, it does provide an interesting approach to determining how well your jurisdiction is integrating CERT into emergency response. The advent of social media means that local groups now have a mechanism for organizing themselves without the involvement of government, as was demonstrated very clearly in Hurricane Sandy. CERT offers the ability to organize communities before disaster strikes. However, failing to integrate CERTS into our emergency plans negates that benefit and may leave us struggling to catch up with the public response to a disaster.