Protecting your home and community

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

The CERT logo

Following the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake Los Angeles created the Disaster Preparedness Unit within the Fire Department. Their goals were to

  • Educate and train the public and government sectors in disaster preparedness
  • Research, evaluate, and disseminate disaster information, and
  • Develop, train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

In 1993, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make the concept and program available to communities nationwide. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in cooperation with the LAFD, expanded the CERT materials to make them applicable to all hazards.

Citizen Corps

A photo of several yellow hard hats on shelves

Following 9/11, FEMA created the Citizen Corps to help coordinate volunteer activities that will make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to any emergency situation. It provides opportunities for people to participate in a range of measures to make their families, their homes, and their communities safer from the threats of crime, terrorism, and disasters of all kinds.   In 2002, CERT and CERT training were incorporated into the Citizen Corps. The idea is to prepare communities to be resilient in the event that official emergency response services will be overwhelmed by need following a disaster. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life saving and life sustaining needs. If we can predict that emergency services will not meet immediate needs following a major disaster, especially if there is no warning as in an earthquake and people will spontaneously volunteer, what can government do to prepare citizens for this eventuality?

  • First, present citizens the facts about what to expect following a major disaster in terms of immediate services.


  • Second, give the message about their responsibility for mitigation and preparedness.


  • Third, train them in needed life saving skills with emphasis on decision making skills, rescuer safety and doing the greatest good for the greatest number.


  • Fourth, organize teams so that they are an extension of first responder services offering immediate help to victims until professional services arrive.

Volunteers are trained in basic self-help emergency functions such as team organizationmanagement, fire suppression, utility controlsearch and rescue, and disaster medical operations. Class size varies, depending on need, in order to maximize training efforts and insure quality of instruction. Classes should be between 25 and 60 persons. Ideally, firefighters and paramedics will teach the course in eight 2-1/2 hour classes emphasizing “hands-on” training.

Cute boy drinking from a water fountain

Training for the Entire Community   Training is given to meet the specific needs of three groups:

  • Community Groups: Homeowners associations, neighborhood watch groups, or religious organizations are brought together to form geographically distributed teams.
  • Business and Industry: Business groups are selected depending on location and where they can accomplish the most good for the public during a large disaster. This includes high-rise office buildings, large hotels, or large industrial complexes.
  • Town Government: In order to improve disaster operations and the Town’s recovery abilities, Town employees are trained, thus enabling Town government to continue providing needed services to its citizens.

A photo of the cover of a CERT training manual

The Curriculum An eight week, 20 hour training program was developed to prepare individuals for the overall demands resulting from a major disaster. The training is not designed to enable civilians to respond to a disaster with the ability of professional emergency personnel. Rather, it teaches greater self-sufficiency and optimizes chances of survival.   Brief class descriptions follow:

  • Class 1 begins with an overview of local threats. Personal and family preparedness are given a special emphasis because individuals must feel comfortable about the safety of their family and loved ones if they are asked to function away from home during an emergency. This is followed by “how to” information on non-structural hazard mitigation.
  • Class 2 outlines basic fire suppression techniques to include size- up, fire chemistry, fire extinguisher types and usage, and utility control. During Class 2, participants will extinguish a flammable liquid fire and begin developing self-confidence and teamwork.
  • Class 3 begins disaster medical operations with recognition and treatment of life threatening emergencies. Volunteers also learn the principles of triage, transportation, and treatment area management.
  • Class 4 is the second session of disaster medical operations. In this class, the head-to-toe patient evaluation is taught, along with recognition and treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
  • Class 5 discusses light search and rescue operations, including search techniques, evacuation and rescue methods, principles of mechanical advantage, and basic cribbing techniques. Heavy emphasis is placed on recognizing rescue limitations and safety by discussing the dangers of various building constructions.
  • Class 6 prepares members for the emotional environment by discussing the psychology of a disaster. The Incident Command System (ICS) is introduced in a simplified format, again stressing the need for teamwork, organization, and logistical planning.
  • Class 7 introduces terrorism awareness to the class by discussing different types of terrorism attacks both foreign and domestic. Prepares students to identify possible terrorist targets, and to take action to protect themselves and others
  • Class 8 is a course review and simulated disaster exercise. Participants are required to apply the individual principles they have learned to the overall demands of a simulated disaster. This class will dramatize the multi-functional training approach, as well as promote team reliance.

Attempts are made to custom fit each program to the needs of the group receiving the training. For example, when teaching the program to a community group in the heavily brush laden Santa Monica Mountains, a special emphasis is placed on home preparation for brush fires and actions to take during a large scale brush fire. When working with business teams within a high-rise building, alarm and standpipe systems, stairwell access, and evacuation techniques are discussed.

Photograph of a pair of safety goggles

Team Operations Upon completion of the course, team members are given a certificate and provided with green hard hats and silk-screened vests for identification. They are encouraged to purchase personal safety equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and basic first aid supplies. Businesses, on the other hand, are encouraged to provide needed safety equipment for their trained employees, and to establish an emergency supply cache.

Here are some resources for CERT members.

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