On dozens of college campuses around the country, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) train to be ready in case of emergency and help with campus events. Like all CERTs, Campus CERT volunteers learn such skills as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. These skills are taught and used for campus operations and events. Each team includes students, university staff, and faculty.
The Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 that killed 32 people motivated St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas to start a Campus CERT that same year. Fortunately, the CERT hasn’t had to respond to a tragedy. The CERT helps with campus fire drills, graduation traffic control, and student fairs. Each September during National Preparedness Month, the CERT holds a preparedness fair with vendors from across the city and hands-on activities for students. These activities include CPR, how to stop bleeding, and how to use a fire extinguisher.
The St. Edwards CERT has trained hundreds of people since it began 15 years ago. It currently has about 30 members, a mix of university staff, faculty, and students. While the pandemic created an initial drop off in participation, involvement bounced back with meetings and trainings done on Zoom.
“Because everyone on campus is highly focused on helping not only our university succeed but also our organizations succeed, you develop really passionate people who are willing to step up and help when something needs to be accomplished,” said Dan McCoy, the CERT’s executive chair.
Unlike St. Edward’s long-standing CERT, Louisiana’s first Campus CERT, began last year at University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM). CERT Coordinator Mark Johnson said he had hoped to start it in April 2020, but the pandemic forced him to postpone plans.
“Our experiences with severe weather and past hurricanes over the years have taught us that help is coming but it won’t be immediate. The rule has always been the first 72 [hours are] on you. We wanted to make sure we could sustain our university during that time until assistance could arrive,” said Johnson, who is also an assistant professor of criminal justice and University Police Department training director.
Johnson noted that the campus, located about 300 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, is designated as a shelter for some residents in southern Louisiana. He wants to ensure that volunteers are trained and ready to help if the shelter is activated.
So far, the 88-member CERT has held two basic training sessions but has not yet had to respond to incidents.
Johnson encourages other universities to consider adding a CERT. “There is no downside for any university to start a CERT team,” he said.
Interested in starting a CERT at your university? Download the Campus CERT Starter Guide. This comprehensive guide helps campus emergency and safety personnel develop a program, set up training, and recruit volunteers.
This article first appeared in the quarterly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.
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