DATE: November 8, 2016
ISSUED BY: Assistant Chief Charles C. Ryan, III, Personnel Services Bureau

SUBJECT: Community Emergency Response Team

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a training program that prepares residents to help themselves, their families, and neighbors in the event of a disaster in their community. Through CERT, residents can learn about disaster preparedness and receive training in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, and disaster medical operations. With this training, volunteers can provide critical support by giving immediate assistance to victims before emergency first responders arrive on scene. In Fairfax County, the CERT Program is managed by the Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) through the Office of the Volunteer Liaison.

The FRD is about to commence its 120th CERT class. Since the program’s establishment in 2003, approximately 2700 residents have been trained. These students are trained to respond within their communities to large scale disasters that may impact their neighborhoods and to function as a citizen arm of the FRD. The team members can easily be identified by their green helmets and reflective vests marked "CERT."

CERT members complete a 32-hour training course based on Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines that has been modified to meet the needs of Fairfax County and delivered with oversight from the Fire and Rescue Academy. The CERT graduates are intended to self-activate in their community during disasters or incidents in which first responder response is limited or nonexistent for an extended period of time. The CERTs will be able to provide help for themselves and their neighbors until emergency personnel reach the scene at which time they can be integrated into the incident command structure.

In addition to disaster roles, the CERT Program can provide community service by having the teams perform nonemergency public service duties in their community. The program is designed to activate teams if the county should need assistance for nonemergency duties, or to assist in nonoperational roles such as shelter staffing during a major emergency.

This approach is sensible for large scale disasters where first responder response is limited or nonexistent.

For smaller scale incidents where the FRD’s response is adequate and timely the CERT is trained not to mobilize or approach the FRD Incident Commander to provide any direct assistance.

There is a current initiative to form more cohesive neighborhood teams throughout the county. These teams are being designed around local zip code areas, and over 400 trained CERTs are now affiliated with a community team. The key to the success of the CERT Neighborhood Teams Program is the working relationship that will be fostered between the team and their local fire station. As teams are organized, they will be introduced to the FRD personnel at their neighborhood fire station at an evening meeting. This will ensure that the FRD staff knows the team in their area and is familiar with the CERT’s capabilities and level of training.