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CERT Basics: Community Emergency Response Team

Often in disasters, it’s the people in the immediate surroundings of a disaster that have the first and largest impact.

But how can you best help your community when disaster strikes?

Tornado Damage Tennessee 2020
The aftermath of a tornado that ripped through Middle Tennessee in 2020.

Well, we suggest taking a look into Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERTs for short.

What does CERT training involve? What happens after you complete training? How do you get trained, and is it worth it?

Well, we’re here to help! We’ve compiled the information you need to learn more and even join a CERT. 

So, ditch combing through government websites and keep reading for more information.

Table of Contents


What Is CERT Training?

It’s always beneficial to know where something came from to better understand its strengths and weaknesses.

With CERT, it all began in 1985 after Mexico was rocked by disaster.

On September 19, an earthquake of 8.0 magnitude hit Mexico City, resulting in 10,000 deaths.

Mexico Earthquake 1985
The aftermath of the 8.0 magnitude earthquake in Mexico. (Photo: Roberto Esquivel Sánchez)

But to make matters worse, many of these deaths took place well after the earthquake actually happened.

Good Samaritans attempted to rescue people trapped in the rubble throughout the city – ultimately saving 700. However, 100 of those untrained volunteers lost their lives rescuing others in the process.

The Los Angeles Fire Department studied these tragedies at length and concluded that the better trained a populace, the fewer deaths occur due to disaster.

The result — the development of CERT.

What Will You Learn?

After reading through virtually all of the online CERT documents out there, I can attest to this: you’ll learn a little about everything.

Pretty much the entire scope of possible disasters is covered within this training – the immediate aftermath of a tornado, hurricane, flood, and even a nuclear attack.

hurricane flooding

While CERT training won’t leave you an expert in any particular field, it will give you a solid foundation to build on.

General first-aid, rescue carries, saving somebody trapped in rubble without killing yourself in the process, and basic disaster preparedness are all topics touched upon within this training.

Having a good IFAK or first aid kit in your car is a wise plan but you also need to carry a tourniquet on your body. If you have an EDC you can also have an EDC TQ.
First aid supplies

If you’re brand new to prepping, survival, or disaster relief, this may be just what you’re looking for.

What Do CERT Volunteers Do?

CERT training was designed so that trained volunteers could take care of things until first responders arrived.

As such, that is what you’ll be involved in – saving lives.

CERT training (Photo: Joe Loong)

There are several ways that this can take place — rendering first aid, light search, and rescue operations, providing disaster comms, and supporting emergency operation centers, etc.

The idea is that CERT volunteers help ease the burden on first responders and other disaster relief personnel so that the most serious problems can be better tackled.

So, while you’re not going to be the person who provides life-saving surgery for a survivor, you very well could be the one that dug them out of the rubble.

Who Can Take CERT Training?

Just about anybody!

Provided you have a willingness to learn; you can take a CERT course.  

There are plenty of CERT options out there, from Teen CERT programs, Workplace CERT programs, and campus CERT programs as well.

This means that there are options to create disaster-ready communities at just about any location you can think of.

Since it’s all volunteer-based, the training is free too — meaning you can further expand your skill set and knowledge base without making your wallet any lighter.

Are There Online Options?

You guys owe me on this one. I had to turn into a veritable Sherlock Holmes and wade through pages of FEMA’s garbage websites to get the answer here.

Excuse you, yes they do.

Typically, no. To become CERT certified requires in-person training.

However, due to 2020, CERT courses were offered in online formats for the first time.

This appears to vary in availability — some localities offer online formats while others do not.

Utah created an online course that will get you through the greater portion of the certification process, regardless of where you live.

CERT Online

You’ll still need to pass an in-person section of the training after taking the online class, but it will save you the 18 to 20 hours of in-person class time you would otherwise endure.

How Do I Find a CERT Program Near Me?

The best way to find a CERT training course near you is by entering your local information at this link.

Once you find the course you want to join, contact that particular program individually.

Give the chief organizer a call and find out what you have to do to join.

Simpsons Phone Call

Attempting to do such through the FEMA/Ready.gov website is like running blindfolded through Pan’s Labyrinth. Cut through the red tape and get to the source.

While I did find several CERT programs around my area when searching, I didn’t find any within my locale.

So, what do you do if this happens?

What If There’s No Program Near Me?

If you’re interested in starting a program for your locale, there are a few steps that you must take first.

For starters, you have to take the class yourself. This means signing up for certification from an adjacent community with a CERT program already in place.

It’s here that you’ll pass the CERT Basic Training Course.

After receiving your certificate, you can now enroll in the next hurdle: CERT Train-the-Trainer (E428).

CERT Training
All instructors are required to have Hulk Hogan mustaches and do double finger points. (Photo: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA News Photo)

There’s a CERT Program Manager (E427) course as well that is typically optional. Different states have different requirements, though, so contact another CERT group within your state to see whether you need to take E427 or not.

Once you pass the necessary courses, the next step is to register your CERT program with FEMA.

Your CERT group will now be available for public viewing by others seeking training within your region, and you’ll now be contacted if your help is needed in the event of disaster.

I Finished the Course, Now What?

Let’s assume you’re not starting your own group but instead just passed CERT Basic Training.

You’ll get your certificate and green vest in the mail within the next two to three weeks. The only thing you need to provide is a means for CERT group leaders to contact you.

Group leaders will likely have the necessary gear you need to engage in disaster relief. If not, keep your own in a go-bag in your vehicle.

Bug out bags (4)
Might be worth having a go-bag in case you need it.

Occasional training will take place with your group on at least a yearly basis. To remain within your CERT group, you must attend this training.

Other than that, you’re good!

There will be plenty of volunteer opportunities throughout the year, and your group will likely engage in a lot of recruiting.

CERT Training Woman Stabbed
You could even volunteer to play a victim! (Photo: Joe Loong)

But your main job is to be ready for when you’re needed.

Should Preppers Take CERT Training?

If you consider yourself a hardcore prepper, is CERT training worth it? Here’s my take.

As a hardcore prepper, you won’t learn must new information with CERT training.

But it’s not necessarily about new info. Rather, it’s about the systems you’re setting in place to help your community when disaster strikes.

Police Car Lights
You’ll learn all about the systems in place.

While the Basics course covers a wide range of disaster topics, I didn’t find there to be much depth.

If you’re brand new to the field, then yes, you will learn something. However, if you’ve been prepping for years, you probably know more about nukes, fire safety, floods, etc., than what’s covered.

That said, there are subjects discussed that will appeal to preppers.

Psychological First Aid

For starters, did you know that there’s something called Psychological First Aid?

I first discovered the concept while working on one of my books and have rarely encountered discussions in the prepper world.

PFA is essentially how you help somebody deal with the immediate aftermath of a disaster mentally.

CERT Training PFA
CERT Training PFA (Photo: Joe Loong)

This helps them avoid developing some very serious mental issues in the future. It’s a very cool topic that can be of great use even in your day-to-day life.

I found much of the search and rescue information insightful as well.

Within CERT training, you’ll learn where survivors are likely to be trapped in rubble and how to get them out without causing further structural collapse.

This was a subject I knew absolutely nothing about and was happy to discover.

Organizational Structure

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons that the seasoned prepper could learn is how to set up an organizational structure post-disaster.

After a disaster, people tend to cluster in groups. This is instinctual and comes from peoples’ inherent understanding that there’s safety in numbers.

Knowing how to organize that group makes survival-related tasks get accomplished more efficiently, reliably, and safely.

See, even zombies group together. (Photo: Rogue Pictures)

This is an area where I think a lot of preppers could stand to benefit.

We tend to have a lone wolf mindset – which I completely understand – but understanding how to best work with people is still a useful skill set to possess.

Whether you’re making it day by day at a survival retreat post-nuke or attempting to gather a group of survivors to help rescue somebody trapped in an avalanche, CERT training will teach you what structure works and what doesn’t.

CERT volunteers often have many ties with other prepper and disaster organizations such as ARES and SKYWARN.

HAM Radio (3)
HAM Radio

Both of these are ham radio groups that assist in post-disaster communications.

Whether you’re looking at developing other technical skillsets (such as ham radio) or hoping to meet like-minded people, CERT can help with that!

Are There Cons to CERT Training?

As with anything, there are some potential negatives.

First and foremost, it does appear as if you give up some of your autonomy by getting CERT training.

You’ll be placing yourself at the command of others post-disaster, and if they call you up, you need to be there.

Tornado Damage Tennessee 2020
Are you prepared to show up here to help?

If you’re going to join a CERT group, they’re not going to take too kindly to your saying, “No, it’s 3 AM, and I’m tired.”

It is a commitment.

There are some further factors to consider.

To begin with, you’re placing yourself on a government list of disaster-prepared individuals. Do you want that? Are there potential negatives with such?

(Photo: FEMA)

That’s for you to decide. Just know that you’re ultimately placing yourself under government authority in a disaster, where somebody from FEMA could very well be issuing you orders.

That may or may not be an issue for you. Either way, it’s something to understand upfront.


Community Emergency Response Teams can do a lot of good and are a great way to better prepare your community (or yourself) for disaster.

While the process for getting certified can be somewhat tricky to navigate, hopefully, we’ve helped make that process a little more clear-cut.

The Camp Fire 2018 (Picture: ABC7 San Francisco)
Disasters happen. Best to be prepared. (Picture: ABC7 San Francisco)

As a seasoned prepper, you may not learn as much novel information. But you will place yourself within a framework of other like-minded individuals who are doing what they can to mitigate your community’s disaster risk.

For those wanting an organized way to help others post-disaster, this may be just what you’re looking for.

What are your thoughts on CERT training? Have you taken the course? Did you find it worth it? Let us know in the comments below! For more survival and prepping topics, check out our Prepping Category.

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1 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Local Treeper

    Very well written article. Kudos on this one! Love that you clearly point out the big con to the whole thing given the current authoritarian regime we reside under.

    July 22, 2021 11:15 pm
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