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About the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors as number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life saving and life sustaining needs.

One also expects that under these kinds of conditions, family members, fellow employees, and neighbors will spontaneously try to help each other. This was the case following the Mexico City earthquake where untrained, spontaneous volunteers saved 800 people. However, 100 people lost their lives while attempting to save others. This is a high price to pay and is preventable through training.


The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees.

The training program that LAFD initiated makes good sense and furthers the process of citizens understanding their responsibility in preparing for disaster. It also increases their ability to safely help themselves, their family and their neighbors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the importance of preparing citizens. The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials believing them applicable to all hazards.

The CERT course will benefit any citizen who takes it. This individual will be better prepared to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Additionally, if a community wants to supplement its response capability after a disaster, civilians can be recruited and trained as neighborhood, business, and government teams that, in essence, will be auxiliary responders. These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster. Since 1993 when this training was made available nationally by FEMA, communities across the United States and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training.

Why Do We Need CERT?

After several large scale disasters like 9/11 and the Loma Prieta earthquake, there was a realization that not all emergency services personnel will be able to reach everyone right away. People will have to rely on each other for help with immediate and life-threatening issues. By attending CERT training classes, you will learn skills to help save lives and protect property.

How Does CERT Help in the Community?

Once a disaster strikes, CERT team members are encouraged to check on their own families and home first. They then assemble at a pre-designated area and break up into teams. These teams fan out into the neighborhood and look for people to rescue and treat, fires to put out and utilities to shut off. CERT team members work in teams of 3, as safety is the most important issue when working in a disaster zone. Team members are taught to not enter collapsed buildings or other dangerous environments.

Who Can Be An SMCFD CERT Member? 

Residents of Belmont, Foster City and San Mateo who are at least 16 years of age or older can participate. No matter where you live, no matter who you are, we can all have a role in disaster preparedness. CERT is all about neighbor helping neighbor!

CERT Training

CERT training involves seven sessions and one Saturday session for a total of 25 hours. This training consists of interactive lectures and hands-on practice. The course concludes with a hands-on training exercise. Most community classes will be held at the Foster City Fire Department, 1040 E. Hillsdale Blvd. CERT students are taught by San Mateo Consolidated Fire Department personnel and experienced CERT members in basic fire suppression, utility control, light search and rescue and disaster medical. Other topics include disaster psychology and disaster incident management.  The next series of community CERT classes will begin in Fall 2021.