A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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CERTs Work to Include the Whole Community

January 2022

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve can better understand residents’ needs and communicate with them about disaster preparation and response.

For example, as Miami Beach’s Community Emergency Response Team program liaison, Irene Valines developed an approach she calls “filling holes in the whole community.” In a city where about 57 percent identify as Hispanic, she plans to offer CERT Basic Training in Spanish led by team volunteers who speak the language.

Her team also recently partnered with the Jewish Learning Center to provide CERT Basic Training to members of the Orthodox Jewish community. They worked to schedule classes that didn’t conflict with their religious holidays or the Sabbath.

The CERT Program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area. It trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, and disaster medical operations.

CERT is about empowering the community. We foster an atmosphere of inclusivity,” Valines said. “If people are not given the tools in a language they understand, it just makes the process of preparedness more difficult—for the people as well as the public safety professionals. You must properly communicate safety messages and information that they can share with their families, neighbors, and co-workers.”

Like the Miami Beach CERT, teams around the country are working to include the whole community to strengthen their programs. One way they’re doing that is using the CERT Basic Training materials that FEMA has translated into five languages. These include Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and traditional and simplified Chinese.

Translated CERT material accounts for about 16 percent of the 900,000 downloads and print orders from October 2017 to October 2021. The most popular language is Spanish, and print orders for Spanish language materials have skyrocketed to more than 2,000 per month for most of 2021. Simplified Chinese is the second-most popular language.

The Newark CERT in northern California is working to welcome all potential volunteers. In 2021 the team relaunched its program to support fire response after it had been inactive in recent years. Richard Martinez, Newark’s CERT coordinator, ordered CERT Basic Training materials in all the languages offered.

“We would like to be able to develop the opportunity for those community members whose primary language isn’t English to be able to support our community through our CERT Program or at least be able to provide these families the skills and information about CERT so they can be prepared to help themselves, their families, and possibly their neighbors during an event,” Martinez said.

Being inclusive of the whole community can help foster resilience during disasters. However, it isn’t always easy to translate interest in having a bilingual CERT into actually creating one. The Butte County CERT Team began in 2020 in an area of California devastated by the Camp Fire in Paradise. The team partnered with the Northern California Catholic Foundation to hold bilingual zoom CERT Basic Trainings.

However, “it never amounted to much,” said CERT Coordinator Grant Hunsicker. The problem was that the Spanish-speaking foundation employees were only funded temporarily, and the pandemic meant interest from fewer than expected volunteers.

Increasing diversity among CERT volunteers also means reaching out to people with disabilities and access and functional needs. A November webinar titled “Disaster Response and Disability: Approaches for Citizen Responders” held by ICPD quickly reached its registration limit of 1,000 participants.

Samantha Royster, CERT Program Manager for North Carolina Emergency Management, has held numerous CERT trainings and trained trainers on how to accommodate a variety of needs. She combed through each slide in the CERT Basic Training to include additional advice, such as respecting requests by patients with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities on how to treat, transfer, and position them.

“Don’t make any assumptions about anyone’s abilities. Don’t assume because someone comes into your classroom in a wheelchair, they won’t be able to be an integral part of a class,” she said.

She explains all visuals for those with low vision. Royster has also learned to slow the pace when she speaks to ensure sign language interpreters can catch everything she says. That may mean training takes longer to plan and carry out. But making sure it’s welcoming to all members of the community is important for every CERT Team, she believes.

Having CERT Teams that represent all members of the community strengthens both the important response work they do and empowers residents to join a team because they can see that everyone is welcome to participate.

To learn more about the CERT Program and its translated training materials, see Community Emergency Response Team | Ready.gov.

Disclaimer: The reader recognizes that the federal government provides links and informational data on various disaster preparedness resources and events and does not endorse any non-federal events, entities, organizations, services, or products. Please let us know about other events and services for individual and community preparedness that could be included in future newsletters by contacting FEMA-prepare@fema.dhs.gov

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.