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There are numerous survival and prepper websites that sell gear and supplies, and others that offer fee-based training programs. Most are reputable organizations offering quality products and services. However, what if I were to offer you free training in disaster preparedness, basic first aid, basic search and rescue, and basic fire suppression? What if I told you that your instructors would be trained Paramedics, Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers, and Emergency Managers? How about if I throw in free personal protective gear, a first aid kit, and other supplies? Would you be interested?
All across the US, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) are doing just that for their members. A CERT team is a volunteer citizens group that receives special training and equipment that enhances their ability to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of major emergency and disaster situations. CERT team members are not sent across the state or country; rather, they are tasked with helping their neighbors following a disaster. The program focuses on providing specialized training to organized teams that provide vital services and information within their communities in the absence of professional emergency responders whose arrival may be delayed for hours or days following a disaster.
In exchange for a few hours of your time, CERT program managers will provide you with free training and supplies that would cost hundreds of dollars if you were to purchase them. Specifics vary between states and counties, but in the county I live in, the program works like this:
In exchange for helping out, you may be able to attend various community events such as concerts, fairs and local festivals at no charge. In my County, CERT members may assist at events such as the annual Seafood Festival, the annual Strawberry Festival, and annual County Health Fair. From time to time there may be events where you are provided with meals and beverages or issued MREs, and events for which you may even be reimbursed for your mileage, expenses, and time.
Funding for CERT programs comes to the states in the form of FEMA grants; states, in turn offer grants to local governments to cover the costs of training and supplies. There is no obligation to serve for a specific period of time as a CERT team member, and when you leave, the training and equipment stays with you. These programs are not shoe-string operations. In my county, there is a full-time paid CERT coordinator who works in the Sheriff’s department. In other counties, the program may be run by the Fire Department, County Emergency Manager, or Emergency Medical Service.
Needless to say, this program is NOT for everyone. You will be providing your name and personal information to local government officials, and most likely, you will be subject to a driving record search and criminal background check. The purpose for this is not meant to intrude on your personal liberties. It is to ensure that those who are cleared to help their neighbors are not felons or sexual predators.
Although volunteers are not required to be in perfect physical condition, they are be expected to be able to perform CPR, carry a backpack and supplies, and to spend extend periods of time out-of-doors. Following an actual disaster, volunteers may be exposed to flood waters, dangerous debris, and hazardous environments. There may be issues with dangerous animals, and possible exposure to deadly pathogens. CERT volunteers will probably want to be up to date on influenza, hepatitis C, and tetanus vaccinations.
While there are some dangers, on the positive side, most CERT teams are usually organized by governmental public safety organizations. Where I live, CERT team member are covered by Workers Compensation insurance and county liability and property damage insurance, even though volunteers are not paid employees. CERT members do have some protection against personal liability as long as they are working within their assigned duties.
One final benefit of CERT membership is that you can develop relationships with other individuals who share your interest in disaster preparedness and self-sufficiency. Many, or even most CERT teams conduct criminal background checks and check the references of applicants. You have the comfort of knowing that you will not be sharing information about your preps with felons, sex offenders or other unsavory people.
For more information about the CERT program, or to locate the program closest to you, visit, http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams/ This website has a lot of materials, including manuals, sample exercises, and a self-study course for volunteers.
For those interested in “prepping on a shoe-string,” as well as those who want to assist their communities before and after a disaster, I encourage you to contact your local CERT team. In addition to helping others, it could make a considerable contribution to your prepping efforts.
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