History of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program

Bonnie CanalNews, Thought LeadershipLeave a Comment

The CERT program started in Los Angeles, California before making its journey across the United States and abroad. Officials from LA traveled to Japan in February of 1985 to study its disaster response plans. The team discovered that Japan had extensive training programs that were neighborhood-based, focusing on fire suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid, or evacuation. The LA group traveled to Mexico City following a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people. Although there had been no pre-disaster training, groups of volunteers conducted light search and rescue operations. The volunteers were credited with saving over 800 people, but over 100 volunteers died in the effort.

Having determined that pre-disaster training was a valuable resource for the city, officials began training leaders of neighborhood watches 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.

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,
  • 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.

The CERT Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

 Click here to find nearby CERT programs and to inquire about disaster training and volunteer opportunities.

These are just a few ideas that I have incorporated. If you have any ideas or thoughts you would like to share, please post them in the comments.


I look forward to hearing from you!

Bonnie Canal
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