MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Community Emergency Response Teams prepare for the worst, then when disaster strikes, they help themselves, their families, their neighborhoods and their communities.
Begun in Los Angeles in 1985, the CERT program consists of specially trained volunteers who are called into action during and immediately following major disasters before first responders can reach the affected areas. They work closely with fire and emergency management departments in their communities.
More than 2,200 CERT programs are available in the United States. In Alabama, 10 counties offer CERT training and maintain teams. During a disaster, Alabama CERT members may self-deploy in their neighborhoods, be mobilized by a sheriff’s office or report to a pre-determined location.
“CERT groups provide immediate assistance to people in their areas and lead spontaneous volunteers before we can get to the area and inform emergency management of what the needs are,” said Art Faulkner, director of Alabama Emergency Management.
Billy Green, Deputy Director of Emergency Management for Tuscaloosa County, had just finished a training class for Hispanic CERT volunteers the week before the tornado outbreak of April 2011 in Alabama.
“We finished on the Saturday before the tornadoes hit,” he said. “These Spanish speakers took exactly what they learned and put it out in the field. The City of Holt has a high Hispanic population, and this team was able to go out there and do search and rescues.”
Holy Spirit Catholic Church set up its own shelter for the Hispanic population, he added. “Those guys were in that shelter helping and making sure everyone was all right.”
This April’s severe weather and flooding caught many Mobile County residents by surprise, said Mike Evans, Deputy Director of Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
“Mobile gets the most rainfall of anywhere in the continental United States with 67 inches per year,” he said. “This wasn’t like during hurricane season; getting a lot of rain and thunderstorms is pretty common. But areas that normally flood didn’t, it was urban areas.”
Since the ground was already saturated, the rain had nowhere to go so roads that were low flooded, he said.
“People tried to drive through and we had to get them out,” Evans said.
CERTs distributed commodities and one team knocked on doors asking who was going to leave the area and who was going to stay, he said. After the storm, his teams notified people who left the area of the status of their property.
CERTs can also work with crowd and traffic control, work at water stations at large events, help community members prepare for emergencies, and assist with fire suppression and medical operations as well as search and rescue operations.
Initially, CERT members take training classes that cover components of disaster activities, including disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, search and rescue and disaster psychology and team organization. Additional training occurs twice a year with mock disasters. Refresher courses are also held. The Federal Emergency Management Agency supports CERT by conducting or sponsoring train-the-trainer and program manager courses for members of the fire, medical and emergency management community, who then train individual CERTs.
CERTs are organized in the Alabama counties of Dale, DeKalb, Shelby, Morgan, Tallapoosa, Jefferson, Colbert, Calhoun, Russell and Coffee.
To join an existing CERT program in your community, go online to www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams. Click on the “find nearby CERT programs” link and enter your zip code. If there is a team near you, you will see the name and phone number of a contact person as well as pertinent information about the local program.
That site can also provide information on how to build and train your own community CERT, the curriculum for training members as well as how to register the program with FEMA.
Aside from providing a vital community service, CERT members receive professionally recognized training and continue to increase their skills.
“CERTs complement and enhance first-response capabilities by ensuring safety of themselves and their families, working outward to the neighborhood and beyond until first responders arrive,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Albie Lewis. “They are one of the many volunteer organizations that we rely on during a disaster.”
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.
FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for childcare, medical, dental expenses and/or funeral expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, those who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, transportation, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
For more information on Alabama’s disaster recovery, visit www.fema.gov or http://www.ema.alabama.gov/. For the joint Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/AlabamaEMA. To receive Twitter updates: http://twitter.com/AlabamaEMA or www.twitter.com/femaregion4