Starting a CERT Program in your Community


During a disaster, the capacity of emergency services is often pushed to the limit. People must rely on each other for help in order to meet immediate life-saving and life-sustaining needs. By putting a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in place as an extension of first responder services, direct help can be offered to victims until professional services arrive. CERT training builds life-saving competencies with emphasis on decision-making skills, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. This practice excerpts material from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Citizen Corps website.


Having enough citizens trained to deal with life-threatening emergencies during times of disaster can be just one of many challenges for communities.


CERTs are formed by people who wish to be better prepared for the hazards that threaten their communities, and the programs require a partnership between community members and local government emergency management and response agencies. FEMA supports CERT programs by conducting or sponsoring train-the-trainer (TTT) sessions for members of the fire, medical, and emergency management community. The objectives of the TTT are to prepare attendees to promote this training in their community; conduct TTTs at their location; conduct training sessions for neighborhood, business and industry, and government groups; and organize teams with which first responders can interface following a major disaster.

Following is an overview of the detailed steps provided at FEMA's Citizen Corps website about how to start a CERT program in your own community: 

1. Assess community needs

Begin by performing a community disaster preparedness assessment. What role will the CERT play in the community; how will it best complement the community's existing capabilities? Develop specific goals (avoid being too general). An example of a specific goal is: "To enable neighborhood or workplace teams to prepare for and respond effectively to an event until professional responders arrive." 

2. Identify resources

You'll need to determine how much the program will cost and how it can be funded. The role that the CERT program plays in the community will tie directly to costs; for example, how many students you plan to train; instructor costs, training facilities and equipment; ongoing training or events; and supplemental training and team maintenance activities. Once an overall plan has been established, a variety of approaches exist for funding: local funding, grants, or even forming a 501(c)3 organization for nonprofit status (which allows fundraising). See the sample budget and program costs worksheets at the site.

3. Gain support and recruit participants

Getting the support of local stakeholders and local officials will affect the success of your CERT. By first developing an overall approach and documenting the plan, you can more easily communicate the project's worth and gain community support through marketing efforts. Identify possible community partnerships and recruit potential participants: ideal candidates for CERT include community groups, business and industry workers, and local government workers.

4. Acquire training materials

The CERT training requires a broad range of materials beyond just the basic CERT student manual. Several suggestions are made at the site for acquiring materials and resources, including in-kind donations, requesting a line item in the community budget, and applying for a grant. 

5. Tailor the training

Most core CERT training materials take an all-hazards approach; however, it's important to revise or update them to reflect your community's specific needs. The Citizen Corps site has many suggestions for how to do this effectively.

6. Establish a training cadre

Each CERT course is delivered in the community by a team of first responders who have the requisite knowledge and skills. It is suggested that the instructors complete a CERT train-the-trainer (TTT) conducted by their State Training Office for Emergency Management or the Emergency Management Institute in order to learn proper training techniques. The CERT training for community groups is usually delivered in 2.5-hour sessions, one evening a week over a seven-week period.

7. Deliver training and plan for program maintenance

Preparation for CERT training is not as simple as a simple lecture delivery. CERT training requires student registration, tracking systems, materials copied, equipment purchased, and properly trained trainers. When participants have completed the training, it's important to keep them involved and practiced in their skills. Trainers should offer periodic refresher sessions to reinforce the basic training. CERT teams can sponsor events such as drills, picnics, neighborhood clean-up, and disaster education fairs to keep them involved and trained.

When the initial training is over, CERT members should receive recognition (communities might issue ID cards, vests, and helmets to graduates, for example). Local first responders need to be educated about the CERT and their value to the community. Use CERT as a component of the response system when there are exercises for potential disasters.


According to FEMA, 1,774 approved CERT programs are in place nationwide.

CERT members are a potential volunteer pool for the community. They can help with special projects like distributing preparedness material, staffing medical booths during special events, and assisting with installation of smoke alarms for seniors or special needs households. Through training, citizens can manage utilities and put out small fires; treat airway obstruction, control bleeding, and treat victims for shock; provide basic medical aid; search for and rescue victims safely; and organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective. Some CERT members have sought additional training opportunities in shelter management, community relations, and donations management.

Related Resources: 

Citations: Citizen Corps. (n.d.). Start a CERT program. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from


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