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CERT Frequently Asked Questions

Q What is CERT?

A. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a federally funded, community based volunteer program that provides training and on-going education to better prepare communities and individuals to respond to emergency/disaster situations. When an emergency/disaster happens, CERT members can provide immediate assistance to their community and give critical support to first responders using a coordinated, collaborative and organized effort. CERT members can also help with non-emergency preparedness projects that can help improve the overall safety and quality of life in their community.


Q How Did CERT start?

A. In 1985 the idea to train volunteers from the community to assist emergency services personnel during large natural disasters began. In February, a group of Los Angeles City officials went to Japan to study its extensive earthquake preparedness plans. The group encountered an extremely homogenous society that had taken extensive steps to train entire neighborhoods in one aspect of alleviating the potential devastation that would follow a major earthquake. These single function neighborhood teams were trained in either fire-suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid, or evacuation.

In September, an LA City investigation team was sent to Mexico City following an earthquake there that registered a magnitude 8.1 and killed more than 10,000 people and injured more than 30,000.  Mexico City had no training program for citizens prior to the disaster. However, large groups of volunteers organized themselves and performed light search and rescue operations. Volunteers are credited with more than 800 successful rescues, unfortunately, more than 100 of these untrained volunteers died during the 15-day rescue operation.

The lessons learned in Mexico City strongly indicated that a plan to train volunteers to help themselves and others, and become an adjunct to government responses, was needed as an essential part of overall preparedness, survival and recovery.

In 1986 the LA City FD developed a pilot program to train a group of leaders in a neighborhood watch organization. A concept developed involving multi-functional volunteer response teams with the ability to perform basic fire suppression, light search and rescue and first aid. The first team of 30 people completed training in early 1986 and proved that the concept was viable through various drills, demonstrations and exercises. Expansion of the program however, was not feasible due to limited City resources, until an event occurred in 1987 that impacted the entire area.

On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows earthquake vividly underscored the threat of an area-wide major disaster, and demonstrated the need to expedite the training of civilians to prepare for earthquakes and other emergencies. Following the earthquake, the City of LA took an aggressive role in protecting the citizens of LA by creating the Disaster Preparedness Division, (now the Disaster Preparedness Section) within the LAFD. Their objectives included:

  • Educate and train the public and government sectors in disaster preparedness.
  • Research, evaluate and disseminate disaster information.
  • Develop, train and maintain a network of CERT’s.

In 1993, FEMA decided to make the concept and program available to communities nationwide. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in cooperation with the LAFD, expanded the CERT materials to make them applicable to all hazards.

In 2002 CERT became part of the Citizen Corps, a unifying structure to link a variety of related volunteer activities to expand a communities resources for crime prevention and emergency response.

As of November 2011, all 50 states, three territories, and 6 foreign countries are using the CERT training.

Q. What is the Nassau County CERT program?

A. The Nassau County CERT program follows the same guidelines as the state and federal government, but takes into account the vulnerabilities the County faces, as well as local participating communities. Nassau County is prone to flooding, snowstorms and hurricanes among other natural, and man-made incidents. Each community may have its own localized emergencies and disasters. The CERT program is meant to help address how to plan for and respond to those emergencies and disasters. In addition, CERT is a way for communities to build resilience, foster affiliated volunteerism, assist neighbors, and other communities, and strengthen communities in general.

As of January 2014, Nassau County CERT has trained over 1,400 residents, and has an active membership of over 900 volunteers.

Q. What does CERT training entail?

A. CERT training is a basic, 6-week course that includes the following units:

  • Intro to ICS & the CERT Organization – Introduces the concept of the CERT program and provides a basic overview of the Incident Command System (ICS) a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident management approach that is used for all CERT activities.
  • Fire Suppression & Radio - Briefly covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards and fire suppression strategies. Focuses on the safe use of fire extinguishers, sizing up the situation, controlling utilities and extinguishing a small fire. Basic handheld radio instruction for communications purposes.
  • Disaster Medical Operations I & II – Covers basic trauma medical care, including triage, bleeding and shock control. Also, will learn to evaluate patients using a head to toe assessment, establishing a medical treatment area, performing basic first aid and practicing in a safe and sanitary manner.
  • Light Search & Rescue - Participants learn about search and rescue planning, scene size-up, conducting an organized and thorough search of structure, leveraging, cribbing and victim removal, all while focusing on member safety.
  • Sheltering Introduction – An overview of Shelter set up and Management and a hands on Table Top exercise to practice your new skills.                           
  • Terrorism & Disaster Psychology – Covers the definition of terrorism, targets and weapons, CBRNE indicators, preparing at home, work, and in your neighborhood, and CERT’s role in terrorist incidents. Also, covers signs and symptoms of psychological stress during an incident and the steps that can be taken to improve the mental and emotional wellbeing of team members and victims.

In addition to these topics, other courses will be offered after each CERT member has successfully completed the Basic training and has become part of a local Division.

Q. What is expected of me as a CERT member?

A. As a CERT you will be expected to maintain your emergency supplies, CERT skills and contact information. You will be encouraged to participate in ongoing training and refresher opportunities and as possible, assist the CERT program to your best capabilities.

Program assistance may take the form of helping out at training classes, drills, outreach and other events. You can also help by talking about CERT with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to spread the word about our program and encourage all to take our training. The goal of Nassau County CERT is all residents trained!

Q. What is the Citizen Corp Council and does Nassau County have one?

A. Citizen Corps is a federally funded initiative that is currently being implemented in almost all states throughout the country. The mission of Citizen Corps is to harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds. The Citizen Corps mission will be accomplished through a national network of state, local, and tribal Citizen Corps Councils. These Councils will build on community strengths to implement the Citizen Corps programs and will carry out a local strategy to have every American participate.

In Nassau County, the Citizen Corp Council (CCC) forms partnerships with government, voluntary, and corporate entities to assist in the development of various volunteer initiatives including Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Medical Reserve Corp (MRC), and the Long Island Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (LI VOAD). Current CCC member agencies include:

• American Red Cross, Nassau County Chapter
• Catholic Charities
• Fire Commission representation
• Health and Welfare Council of Long Island
• Long Island Volunteer Center
• Lutheran Disaster Response of New York
• Long Island Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
• Nassau County Department of Health
• Nassau County Office of Emergency Management
• Nassau County Department of Senior Citizen Affairs
• Salvation Army, Nassau County Chapter
• Village of Freeport
• Village of Bayville

Q: Who can get involved in CERT?

A. CERT training is free for Nassau County Residents who are 18 years of age or older. A background check will be conducted in order for you to participate in CERT.

Q: How can I get involved with the Nassau County CERT program?

A. If you are interested or would like more information about CERT in your local community, please email Please enter “CERT INQUIRY” in the subject line and include your first name, last name, address, zip code, phone number, email and a brief comment. We will enter you into our database and contact you with more information.

Q: What if I have concerns about my age or physical ability?

A: There are many jobs within CERT for someone who wants to be involved and help. Following a disaster, CERT members are needed for documentation, comforting others, logistics, etc. Non-disaster related team activities include keeping databases, website development, newsletter, planning activities, community outreach, and preparedness education.