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Online CERT Courses Allow Digital Certification for Volunteers

The program, OnlineCERT, will provide access to those who may have had trouble getting it, like people in rural areas who may not have access, and allow volunteers to acquire the CERT credential at their own pace.

A new Online Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program will provide potential volunteers the opportunity to obtain a digital credential as part of their training to become CERT volunteers.

It is expected that the program, OnlineCERT, will provide access to those who may have had trouble getting it, such as people in rural areas who may not have access, and allow volunteers to acquire the credential at their own pace and in their own time.

The online program was created by the University of Utah Health in partnership with the National CERT Association, using the Merit verified identify platform. The curriculum is the same that FEMA established for CERT programs and includes disaster response skills, fire safety, search and rescue, triaging, and the like. All of that was put into the online format.

The new online training includes some new features, such as virtual reality and videos aimed at making the experience “richer than just sitting in front of a PowerPoint and reading,” said Matthew Hughes, OnlineCERT program director at University of Utah Health.

“So a trainee could go into a scenario and see people with various injuries and try to assess, which people they should attend to first or whether the person had passed [away] and move on to the next,” Hughes said about the virtual reality component. “It really tests their ability to recognize common first aid-type things that they would need to know as a responder.”

The digital credential provides the option to take the classroom portion of the CERT training online and provides a secure, easily verifiable format via the Merit Platform. “The program is an effort to allow people who are either super busy and not able to attend the local community emergency response training programs in person, or those in rural areas where it’s not held or not held frequently, to have an opportunity to gain the same learning experience that comes from FEMA to qualify and be a part of a CERT,” Hughes said.

“While CERT will always have a classroom and in-person training component, the OnlineCERT platform will help make CERT more accessible by allowing students to study portions of the curriculum at their own pace,” said Suu-Va Tai, California CERT administrator and president of the National CERT Association.

The program was sponsored through a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It is hoped that making training easier and more accessible to more people will grow the numbers of people who volunteer.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from the National CERT, from other state agencies and FEMA coordinators in the regions, who say this will dramatically impact access for people in rural areas to participate so we think that the numbers will go up,” Hughes said.
Hughes said the Boy Scouts of America is also interested in using the online training as a way to earn another merit badge.

There’s also a national pilot in the offing with the National CERT to study whether the online delivery and the in-person training facilitate the same type of learning. “We’ll test people after the assessments to see whether they obtained the necessary information from the online classes or the in-person training,” Hughes said.

“We’ve done some already and found that they did very effectively in both.”

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