Please note: All the information on this website refers to what Wood County CERT was trying
to be before it was shut down, and what we intend to be when the program is re-activated.
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A critical part of America's National Response Framework (NRF), the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is a volunteer agency operating under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to help train people to be better prepared to respond to emergency situations in their communities. When emergencies happen, CERT members can give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site. CERT members can also help with non-emergency projects that help improve the safety of the community. CERT is about readiness, people helping people, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number.
The CERT Basic Training course is taught (or supervised) in the community by a trained team of first responders who have completed a CERT Train-the-Trainer course conducted by their state training office for emergency management, or FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI). CERT Basic Training includes disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations (mass-casualty triage and first aid), and light search and rescue operations. CERT members are trained to function within the strict guidelines of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) that are used by all emergency response agencies in America.
To operate legally within a local government jurisdiction, the CERT program must be sponsored by a government emergency planning or response agency within that jurisdiction, such as Fire Department, Law Enforcement (Police Department or Sheriff’s Office), Office of Emergency Management (OEM), or Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Other agencies and private companies may sponsor CERT programs, but those volunteers are limited to providing services only within the limited scope and jurisdiction of their sponsoring organization.
For a bit over three years, Wood County CERT provided these services for the citizens of Wood County, West Virginia, under the umbrella of Mid-Ohio Valley (MOV) Regional CERT, which was sponsored by the MOV Health Department.
However, we found that under their sponsorship, by FEMA regulations, we would be limited to helping the Health Department deal with health emergencies only. We wanted to provide the full services that the CERT program was developed to do, and we had a working Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Wood County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to do so. However, in order to continue to function as desired, we needed the “legal” sponsorship of an official government “emergency response” agency as required by FEMA. We approached the Wood County OEM for sponsorship, and were told that he would try to obtain authorization from the Wood County Commission. After an extended delay, in April 2014 we were told that the Commission was reluctant to allow the OEM to sponsor the program. We then went directly to the Commission and were told that they felt that permitting well-trained and nationally-accredited citizen volunteers to assist their friends and neighbors in the event of a disaster during which local first responders have become overwhelmed (as they were during the Derecho and Super Storm Sandy of 2012) created an unacceptable “liability” for the county.
Without legal sponsorship, the Wood County CERT program was forced shut down, leaving Wood County one of the few counties in the state of West Virginia that does not have a viable CERT program to help assist its citizens in the event of a community disaster. (MOV CERT continues under the Health Department, but their ability to respond is limited to health emergencies only.)
A Brief History of the CERT Program
1985: The idea to train volunteers from the community to assist emergency service personnel during large natural disasters began. In February of 1985, a group of Los Angeles City officials went to Japan to study its extensive earthquake preparedness plans. The group encountered an extremely homogenous society that had taken extensive steps to train entire neighborhoods in one aspect of alleviating the potential devastation that would follow a major earthquake. These single-function neighborhood teams were trained in either fire suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid, or evacuation.
In September of 1985, a Los Angeles City investigation team was sent to Mexico City following an earthquake there that registered a magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale and killed more than 10,000 people and injured more than 30,000. Mexico City had no training program for citizens prior to the disaster. However, large groups of volunteers organized themselves and performed light search and rescue operations. Volunteers are credited with more than 800 successful rescues; unfortunately, more than 100 of these untrained volunteers died during the 15-day rescue operation.
The lessons learned in Mexico City strongly indicated that a plan to train volunteers to help themselves and others, and become an adjunct to government response, was needed as an essential part of overall preparedness, survival, and recovery.
1986: The City of Los Angeles Fire Department developed a pilot program to train a group of leaders in their Neighborhood Watch organization. A concept developed involving multi-functional volunteer response teams with the ability to perform basic fire suppression, light search and rescue, and first aid. This first team of 30 people completed training in early 1986 and proved that the concept was viable through various drills, demonstrations, and exercises. Expansion of the program, however, was not feasible due to limited City resources, until an event occurred in 1987 that impacted the entire area.
1987: On October 1, 1987, the Whittier Narrows earthquake vividly underscored the threat of an area-wide major disaster, and demonstrated the need to expedite the training of civilians to prepare for earthquakes and other emergencies. Following the Whittier Narrows earthquake, the City of Los Angeles took an aggressive role in protecting the citizens of Los Angeles by creating the Disaster Preparedness Division (now the Disaster Preparedness Section) within the Los Angeles Fire Department. Their objectives included:
- Educate and train the public and government sectors in
- Research, evaluate, and disseminate disaster information
- Develop, train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).
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.
2002: In January 2002, CERT became part of the Citizen Corps, a unifying structure to link a variety of related volunteer activities to expand a community's resources for crime prevention and emergency response.
2012: By 2012, CERT programs were offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and six foreign countries.
Just by way of reference, the Los Angeles Fire Department CERT program has been successfully operating since 1986 with over 30,000 active citizen volunteer members. For additional information about CERT, visit FEMA.gov.
Find Nearby CERT programs: locate CERT programs by zip code and inquire about disaster training and volunteer opportunities near you!
1. Private companies, schools, and other organizations may sponsor extremely-limited CERT programs to provide in-house emergency services only. For example, a company or school may use the CERT program to train their in-house or on-campus emergency response personnel. These personnel can only function on the sponsor’s property or within the scope of the sponsor’s immediate area of responsibility. [RETURN]