Los Angeles . . .
the history of CERT
by Linda Underwood
Emergency Response Team
safety includes being prepared for an emergency,
and CERT is the way the community can be involved ...
DID CERT START?
1985: The idea to train volunteers from the community to
assist emergency service personnel during large natural disasters
began. In February of 1985, 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,
In September of 1985, a Los Angeles City investigation team was
sent to Mexico City following an earthquake there that registered
a magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale 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 response, was needed as an essential part
of overall preparedness, survival, and recovery.
1986: The City of Los Angeles Fire Department 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. This 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.
1987: 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 Whittier Narrows earthquake, the City of Los Angeles
took an aggressive role in protecting the citizens of Los Angeles
by creating the Disaster Preparedness Division (now the Disaster
Preparedness Unit) within the Los Angeles City Fire Department.
Their objectives included:
and train the public and government sectors in disaster preparedness
and disseminate disaster information,
train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response
1993: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (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
2002: In January 2002, CERT became part of the Citizen Corps,
a unifying structure to link a variety of related volunteer activities
to expand a community's resources for crime prevention and emergency
2004: As of January 2004, 50 states, three territories and
six foreign countries are using the CERT training.