How CERT Got Started

The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees.

The training program that LAFD initiated makes good sense and furthers the process of citizens understanding their responsibility in preparing for disaster. It also increases their ability to safely help themselves, their families and their neighbors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials, believing them applicable to all hazards.

The CERT course will benefit any citizen who takes it. This individual will be better prepared to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business, and government teams that, in essence, will be auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. Since 1993 when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities in 28 States and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training.


During the Mexico City earthquake in 1985, there were 100 spontaneous responders who were killed trying to give aid and assistance.  Had they been trained in C.E.R.T., they would have been able to recognize life threatening situations and have been able to avoid them, thus perhaps saving their own lives.


Based on the sheer magnitude of the Loma Peita and Northridge Earthquakes, Los Angeles organized and trained citizen volunteers in an effort to help first responders in an overwhelming situation.  The result of this training lead to the Community Emergency Response Team which primarily remained along the West coast for a number of years.


In 2002, after 911, President Bush sent out presidential decrees, one of which formed Citizens Corps, an effort to organize volunteers on a national level.  This organization is done through five distinct entities; Community Emergency Response Team, Fire Corps, Volunteers in Police Service, Medical Reserve Corps, and USA on Watch. 


C.E.R.T., having proved to be a good template for volunteers to aid or assist first responders on the west coast, was adopted by FEMA and Citizens Corps to be the nation-wide standard.

See FEMA's website for more information and history of how CERTs have helped their communities!
http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams/about-community-emergency-response-team