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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

The importance of CERT in rural communities

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

What is CERT?

The founder of CERT, Frank Borden (Middle white shirt)

In February of 1985, officials in Los Angeles flew to Japan to research how Japan prepared for earthquakes. As these officials researched more about how Japan prepared for earthquakes, they realized that Japanese officials took extensive steps to train entire neighborhoods on how to mitigate the chance of destruction occurring after a major earthquake. These Japanese neighborhoods were trained in light search and rescue, fire suppression, basic first aid support, and evacuation. In 1986, The LAFD developed a pilot program that trained leaders of

(Courtesy of the City of Whittier)

neighborhood watch groups. These leaders were expected to be able to perform basic fire suppression, first aid, and light search and rescue. In 1987, only 30 people in Los Angeles had completed the pilot program. Expansion of the program was not well thought out until October 1st, 1987 when an earthquake struck the Whittier Narrows Recreational Area in South El Monte, California. This earthquake proved that LAFD needed to continue training citizens in Los Angeles on how to prepare for disasters as

FEMA's old logo.

they were well uneducated on the subject. The Los Angeles Fire Department then created a division called the “Disaster Preparedness Division” which focused on educating and training the general public on disaster preparedness and maintaining a network of Community Emergency Response Teams otherwise known as CERT. As the program began to develop over the years, it gained attention from The Federal Emergency Management Agency, who in 1993 decided to bring the idea of CERT to all communities interested in the program nationwide. By doing this, FEMA began to create disaster-resilient communities all across the country, allowing citizens to become

more disaster-resilient as they were better prepared and had more knowledge on how to respond after a disaster. In January of 2002, CERT was integrated into the Citizens Corps, a government-based organization that focuses on emergency preparedness. As of 2011, all 50 States use CERT as a way to create disaster-resilient communities. 6 other countries have picked up the idea of CERT and also began teaching their own citizens how to prepare for disasters.

Looking at a real-life case study on how CERT could positively impact a rural community.

So how exactly does this create more disaster-resilient communities? In 2019, I myself signed up for a CERT course at the Moore Emergency Management. During this 1 month course, I was trained twice a week for four hours on how to prepare for a disaster as well as respond after a disaster. This training course allowed me to better prepare for disasters and even strengthened my want to advocate for disaster

preparedness. By being trained in these two sections, citizens can help alleviate the chance of first responders becoming overwhelmed after a disaster because they will have the right knowledge to not just respond but also to strengthen their homes to mitigate damage to it during severe weather. We can take a look at real-life data to see the difference CERT would most likely make in a community. Tipton, Oklahoma, is a town in

far Southwestern Oklahoma. This small community has seen two violent tornadoes make close encounters to the 1 square mile town in the past 10 years. Over 19 tornadoes have struck Tillman County in the past 10 years. Even with this in mind, there is not a program for any citizen in Tipton to get involved with a program that creates disaster resiliency. This has led to over 58% of the residents in Tipton

not understanding what WFO (National Weather Service Office) covers their county, 88% not knowing about spotter training sessions, 29% not having a plan in the event of a disaster, 67% not being prepared for a tornado, 47% not being confident that the town can rebuild after a tornado, 82% not having an Emergency Preparedness Kit, and over half not realizing that a public storm shelter exists in the town. All of these

significant problems can be solved by having a CERT program as each one of the subjects mentioned above is talked about during a CERT training course. CERT has been successful in creating disaster-resilient communities since 1987 and will continue to create disaster-resilient communities through public outreach in the future.

An Emergency Management Directors Viewpoint

McKenzie County Emergency Management Director, Karolin Jappe

McKenzie County, North Dakota's CERT program was born after a tornado went through the county in 2018. "It was then when I had so many people that had been affected by this natural disaster that several community members came to my rescue in helping people find housing and all that was needed to help them recover and get back on their feet. This was the second tornado I had been involved in within my 7 years as the Emergency Manager for McKenzie County and with our severe

summer and winter weather that we seem to attract I knew I needed to do something more for the people who I served. There are people in communities that would be more than willing to get involved, but they need to know that there is a need and they need to understand just how incredible CERT can really be." - Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County Emergency Management Director. Jappe began training residents in her county for CERT prior to COVID-19, however, in 2020, COVID put a temporary hold on in-person CERT training in McKenzie County after COVID began to run rampant. Determined to

make a difference in her county, Jappe used the University of Utah's online 12-hour CERT training program to continue training residents in her county. On September 25th, 2021, she will return to training in person. Each Saturday from September 25th to October 16th, she will spend 4 hours training residents on how to prepare for a disaster in McKenzie County. "My goal is to keep this program alive, meaning if you would like the training, but do not feel like joining our county's CERT team, that is okay. The more folks I can train, the better our county will be in being prepared. I have 38 people signed

up for this year's CERT training. That may not sound like a whole lot, but after being shut-in for a year, I am happy with that number. I know that this program will grow once it shows itself to the community/county." - Karolin Jappe. As of right now, the McKenzie County CERT team has yet to be activated in response to a disaster or for events as participants have yet to be fully trained, however, Jappe has had a few incidents where she has called upon members to come

and assist. "We live in the 21st Century today and we need to change with the times. No one thinks that it will ever happen to them. I am here to tell you that through tornados, house fires, and flooding – not one of those families thought it would ever happen – but it did." - Karolin Jappe. In McKenzie County, there are 10 Volunteer Fire Departments, 4 Quick Response Units, and 4 Ambulance services in which Jappe works

Karolin Jappe talks to a flood victim (courtesy Sidney Herald)

firmly alongside to ensure that their job is much easier during and after a disaster has occurred. "Bringing a CERT team on to be able to help these folks is only going to be a win-win situation. It allows people to give back to their community. There are many folks who do not want to be a full-fledged firefighter or EMT but do want to be there for their community. It also educates them on the importance of becoming prepared." - Karolin Jappe. For Christmas 2020, Karolin Jappe bought Emergency Kits for each of her children and to her

The supplies used in the Emergency Kits.

surprise, her children are now adding more supplies to the already well-built Emergency Kits. If you are interested in becoming CERT certified in your area, be sure to click this link.

About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director for Tillman County Emergency Management and is an Oklahoma Emergency Management Association member.


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