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Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) are groups of volunteers who help to prepare their neighbors for different types of disasters. In NYC CERT falls under the Community Outreach unit within New York City Office of Emergency Management, the City's coordinating agency for organizations and agencies involved in emergency planning, education, and information dissemination.

NYC CERT[edit]

An equipment trailer belonging to the Springfield, Illinois CERT program.

New York City's government takes the position that emergency services personnel are the best equipped to respond to disasters with NYC CERT volunteers trained to support the efforts of New York City's first responders. In partnership with FDNY and NYPD, NYC Emergency Management has taken the national program and adapted it to reflect the unique circumstances of living and working in New York City. Risks and hazards in NYC are different from anywhere else in the world. New York City also has more first responders than most other areas in the country, so NYC CERT members support them rather than respond themselves.

In New York City, Emergency Management's Watch Command unit deploys teams to emergencies and planned events. According to preliminary reports in the New York Times, the October 1, 2017 shooting massacre in Las Vegas showed that, in some instances, advantage is derived from broad, general preparedness and self-activation, see After the Las Vegas Shooting, Concertgoers Became Medics.

CERT maybe required in circumstances such as the following:

  • Coastal Storms
  • Coastal Erosion
  • Flooding
  • Strong Windstorms
  • Extreme Heat
  • Winter Weather
  • Water Shortage
  • Earthquakes
  • Pandemic Influenza

During non-emergency times, NYC CERTs educate about emergency preparedness by working with the Ready New York program and build community disaster networks through the NYC Citizen Corps program.

The NYC CERT program recognizes teams that:

  • Have completed the NYC Emergency Management basic training;
  • Observe CERT Standard Operating Procedures; and
  • Are credentialed to participate in training and deployments through NYC Emergency Management.

CERT Training[edit]

CERT volunteers try on their equipment.

All NYC CERT members are required to undergo an intensive 10-week training program that raises awareness about emergencies and disasters and provides basic response skills needed for fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster medical operations, and traffic control.

Held on consecutive evenings for 10 weeks within one of the five boroughs, classes are approximately three hours long and are interactive with relevant emergency and disaster discussions and group-building activities based on the Incident Command System (ICS). NYC CERT instructors are active FDNY, NYPD, and NYC Emergency Management personnel.

The 10 week training includes:

  • Introduction to NYC CERT and ICS
  • Urban Environment I: High-rise and Utility Emergencies
  • Urban Environment II: Transportation
  • Urban Environment III: Building Community Disaster Networks
  • Disaster Medical Operations
  • Fire Safety
  • Light Search and Rescue
  • Police Science and Terrorism Awareness

During the last class of the training, volunteers participate in a disaster simulation that ties the entire curriculum for response and ICS, including live "victims" from active CERTs.

Upon completion of the 10 weeks of training, volunteers are invited to a formal graduation ceremony and proceed to join their local CERT and support their communities by assisting with emergency education and response.

CERT Team Member Roles[edit]

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that the standard, ten-person team be comprised as follows:[1]

  • CERT Leader. Generally, the first CERT team member arriving on the scene becomes team leader, and is the designated Incident Commander (IC) until the arrival of someone more competent. This person makes the IC initial assessment of the scene and determines the appropriate course of action for team members; assumes role of Safety Officer until assigned to another team member; assigns team member roles if not already assigned; designates triage area, treatment area, morgue, and vehicle traffic routes; coordinates and directs team operations; determines logistical needs (water, food, medical supplies, transportation, equipment, and so on.) and determines ways to meet those needs through team members or citizen volunteers on the scene; collects and writes reports on the operation and victims; and communicates and coordinates with the incident commander, local authorities, and other CERT team leaders. The team leader is identified by two pieces of crossed tape on the hard hat.
  • Safety Officer. Checks team members prior to deployment to ensure they are safe and equipped for the operation; determines safe or unsafe working environments; ensures team accountability; supervises operations (when possible) where team members and victims are at direct physical risk, and alerts team members when unsafe conditions arise.
  • Fire Suppression Team (2 people). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader to suppress small fires in designated work areas or as needed; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the search and rescue team or triage team; assist in evacuation and transport as needed; assist in the triage or treatment area as needed, other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Search and Rescue Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, searching for and providing rescue of victims as is prudent under the conditions; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team, assist in the triage or treatment area as needed; other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Medical Triage Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, providing START triage for victims found at the scene; marking victims with category of injury per the standard operating procedures; when not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team if needed, assist the Search and Rescue Team if needed, assist in the Medical Triage Area if needed, assist in the Treatment Area if needed, other duties as assigned; communicate with Team Leader.
  • Medical Treatment Team (2). Work under the supervision of the Team Leader, providing medical treatment to victims within the scope of their training. This task is normally accomplished in the Treatment Area, however, it may take place in the affected area as well. When not accomplishing their primary mission, assist the Fire Suppression Team as needed, assist the Medical Triage Team as needed; other duties as assigned; communicate with the Team Leader.

Because every CERT member receives the same core instruction, any team member has the training necessary to assume any of these roles. This is important during a disaster response because not all members of a regular team may be available to respond. Hasty teams may be formed by whichever members are responding at the time. Additionally, members may need to adjust team roles due to stress, fatigue, injury, or other circumstances.

When not responding to disasters or large emergencies, CERTs, under the guidance of Emergency Management, may:

  • raise funds for emergency response equipment in their community
  • provide first-aid, crowd control, or other services at community events
  • hold planning, training, or recruitment meetings; and
  • conduct or participate in disaster response exercises.

Some sponsoring agencies use Citizen Corps grant funds to purchase response tools and equipment for their members and team(s) (subject to Stafford Act limitations). Most CERTs also acquire their own supplies, tools, and equipment. As community members, CERTs are aware of the specific needs of their community and equip the teams accordingly.


The basic idea is to use CERT to perform the large number of tasks needed in emergencies. This frees highly trained professional responders for more technical tasks. Much of CERT training concerns its fit into the Incident Command System and organization, so CERT members fit easily into larger command structures.

A team may self-activate (self-deploy) when their own neighborhood is affected by disaster. An effort is made to report their response status to the sponsoring agency. A self-activated team will size-up the loss in their neighborhood and begin performing the skills they have learned to minimize further loss of life, property, and environment. They will continue to respond safely until redirected or relieved by the sponsoring agency or professional responders on-scene.

Teams in neighborhoods not affected by disaster may be deployed or activated by the sponsoring agency. The sponsoring agency may communicate with neighborhood CERT leaders through an organic communication team. In some areas the communications may be by amateur radio, FRS, GMRS or MURS radio, dedicated telephone or fire-alarm networks. In other areas, relays of bicycle-equipped runners can effectively carry messages between the teams and the local emergency operations center.

The sponsoring agency may activate and dispatch teams in order to gather or respond to intelligence about an incident. Teams may be dispatched to affected neighborhoods, or organized to support operations. CERT members may augment support staff at an Incident Command Post or Emergency Operations Center. Additional teams may also be created to guard a morgue, locate supplies and food, convey messages to and from other CERT teams and local authorities, and other duties on an as-needed basis as identified by the team leader.

In the short term, CERTs perform data gathering, especially to locate mass-casualties requiring professional response, or situations requiring professional rescues, simple fire-fighting tasks (for example, small fires, turning off gas), light search and rescue, damage evaluation of structures, triage and first aid. In the longer term, CERTs may assist in the evacuation of residents, or assist with setting up a neighborhood shelter.

While responding, CERT members are temporary volunteer government workers. In some areas, (such as California, Hawaii and Kansas) registered, activated CERT members are eligible for worker's compensation for on-the-job injuries during declared disasters.

Local CERT Resources[edit]

Teen CERT[edit]

A Teen Community Emergency Response Team (TEEN CERT), or Student Emergency Response Team (SERT), can be formed from any group of teens.[2] A Teen Cert can be formed as a school club, service organization, Venturing Crew, Explorer Post, or the training can be added to a school's graduation curriculum. Some CERTs form a club or service corporation, and recruit volunteers to perform training on behalf of the sponsoring agency. This reduces the financial and human resource burden on the sponsoring agency.

A CERT volunteer practices using a fire extinguisher.

Garden School Amateur Radio[edit]

CERT members who are ham operators will coordinate various events using their radios. Locally we have at least one amateur radio club (ARC), at the Garden School. The Garden School Amateur Radio Club formed in 2016. The School's ARC (K2GSG) is an integral part of the school’s curriculum for educating students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines. The Garden School ARC students are mentored by the Hall of Science Amateur Radio Club, which co-exhibited at the 2017 World Maker Faire. Both are ARRL-affiliated clubs.

For more information about the Garden School ARC, contact John Hale, KD2LPM, Garden School Department of Science/GSARC advisor. And see this October 4, 2017 PIX 11 article on Garden School Radio Club

Smartphone Radioactivity Detectors[edit]

To help keep you and your community safe from radioactivity, GammaPix™ works with your smartphone’s camera to detect potentially harmful radiation. The app can automatically measure radioactivity levels wherever you are to check the safety of your local environment. Your readings, collected with others, on the GammaPix Data Portal also contribute to community protection from radioactivity accidents (such as occurred in Fukushima, Japan) or a terrorist attack by a Dirty Bomb or a quietly placed Radiation Exposure Device (RED).

NYPD and Other "Street" Cameras[edit]

See Discussion page.


  1. "Standing Operating Procedures". The Woodlands CERT Committee. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  2. "Teen CERT: Disaster Teen Training Guide" (PDF). floridadisaster.org. Volunteer USA Foundation. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 

External Links[edit]