Managing growth in community emergency response team programs

Rob Gresser, BS, MA


Since September 11, 2001, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs have expanded to meet the growing demand for training in disaster preparedness. While extra help during a disaster is needed due to a lack of resources, the use of volunteer responders presents a unique challenge to emergency service managers.
Even when trained, volunteers are often not prepared for the physical, mental, and psychological strain of a crisis. As a result, their needs differ from those of professional emergency workers. Conse - quently, organizing and delegating work to volunteers adds a level of complexity to the role of emergency managers.
The CERT program in Chandler, Arizona—one of the largest in the state—trained over 400 people in the last year and has encountered many of the problems associated with a rapidly growing volunteer program. During this period of growth, trainers identified several problem areas facing disaster managers including communication issues, effective incident command, a lack of focus that can lead to freelancing at scenes, and the psychological needs of responders. Currently, these issues are being addressed through added training in critical areas, mandatory critical incident stress debriefing, and further studies to better the CERT program.
Currently, the CERT is examining several ideas to help alleviate these problems through continuing education. Professional responders need to work alongside CERT members and become attuned to the signs of physical and emotional exhaustion in volunteers. In addition, they need to be trained in assertiveness and the skill of defusing potentially volatile situations. Team members need to receive training each year to refresh their skills and be reminded of the mission: to do the greatest good for the greatest number.



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