SR Community Emergency Response Team

CERT History

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) began in Los Angeles in the 1990s in response to the Mexico City and other earthquakes. What was discovered from these disasters was that in the event of a major catastrophe, local first responders are overwhelmed, and it takes about three days for help to arrive from outside the area. CERT was established to fill the gap with civilians trained to provide limited emergency help, including search and rescue, medical triage, communications, and, most important, local leadership.

Since then it has become a nationwide program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While members of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department were trained in CERT shortly after the program was established, San Diego did not participate in CERT. It took pressure from Scripps Ranch and Tierrasanta after the Cedar Fire to get the city to move on CERT, and the first CERT training academy took place in 2004. Both Scripps Ranch and Tierrasanta responded positively to the program, with most of the trainees from the first few academies coming from those two areas of the city.

Scripps Ranch CERT

The Scripps Ranch CERT was not only one of the first two teams formed in the city, it rapidly became the best organized and best equipped. We began by electing a leadership team and holding training exercises. With generous support from the Scripps Ranch Civic Association (SRCA), we established caches of emergency equipment around the Ranch. At one point we had so many members compared to the rest of the city that our residents were not allowed to attend the academy.

Today our numbers are down, way down. Most of our membership has moved on for various reasons. We need more people. While many from Scripps Ranch joined CERT in response to the Cedar Fire, the real value of CERT to our community is in the event of an earthquake.

Scripps Ranch is about nine square miles in area, with a population around 30,000. The good news is that we are too high and far away to be hit by tsunamis, and our soil, consisting of cobblestones imbedded in clay, is about as good as it gets to reduce quake damage. The bad news is that there are only seven firefighters to cover the Ranch, and they are likely to be needed elsewhere after an earthquake, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

The Scripps Ranch CERT meets at the Scripps Ranch Library the third Tuesday of each month—except July, August, and December—at 7 pm. Meetings are open to the public, but I suggest you contact me, the Scripps Ranch CERT team leader, before attending in case there is a change in schedule. I can be reached at 619-990-3598 or [[email protected]].

What CERT Does

  • Leadership: CERT teams form into an organizational structure that follows national guidelines, covering all emergency management situations. Hence, a CERT member can quickly join any group in the country and know to whom to report. The CERT organization then provides local leadership that follows this standard.
  • Communications: Many CERT members are amateur radio operators (hams), and San Diego CERT has an active ham radio team. The Scripps Ranch team also has several members who are hams. Also, we are trained on family service radios, the kind sold at Costco.
  • Search and Rescue: The most important CERT activity during a disaster is search and rescue. CERT members are taught how to safely search buildings for victims, provide emergency medical aid, and bring the victims to safety.
  • Medical Triage: Triage is the method developed during World War I to manage many victims. It differs from first aid in that those most in need are treated first, but no time is spent on CPR or extensive medical work. The goal is to do the most good for the largest number of people. CERT members also splint broken bones, close wounds, and otherwise monitor the health of those they rescue.
  • Cribbing: A technique for safely extracting victims from wreckage.

The CERT Academy

To become a CERT member, you have to attend a CERT academy. This entails about four hours of training once a week for six weeks. There are mid-week classes or one on a Saturday morning, but the last class, entailing a full CERT drill, is held only on a Saturday morning. The Fire-Rescue Department holds two academies a year, in the spring and in the fall. The spring academy began in early April.

Anyone over age 21 is eligible to be a member. Everyone who attends the academy passes and is eligible to be a CERT member. To sign up for the academy, visit [www.sandiego.gov/fire/services/cert].

Post-Academy Requirements

CERT members are issued a Disaster Service Workers (DSW) card. This card is issued to academy graduates after they have attended two meetings of their team and completed two Continuing Education (CE) classes, all of which must be completed within one year of graduation. The card must be renewed every two years.

New members must complete another two CE classes, attend two more team meetings, and attend one CERT refresher to renew, all within two years of graduation. Afterward, the requirement is four team meetings, four CE classes, and one refresher every two years to maintain CERT membership and your DSW card.

CE classes cover a wide range of disaster-related topics. Classes must be approved by the Fire-Rescue Department and most last about two hours. Many are offered by the San Diego CERT, and you can sign up online. Refreshers are offered both by the San Diego CERT and San Diego County CERT. We hope you join us in this valuable community resource.

Jim Treglio, SRCERT Team Leader