​What's a CERT & why should my community have one?

April 22, 2024

A group of volunteers with a local Community Emergency Response Team rides on a parade float.

From wildfires to train derailments, emergencies can strike at any tim​e and the initial response can be overwhelming for first responders. 

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs help bridge the gap between when an emergency happens and when first responders can assist. These volunteers learn how to protect themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors and the community by assisting before, during and after an emergency occurs.

“Residents are trained by their local CERT program to provide crucial assistance during an emergency," said Jeanne Rasmussen, volunteer resources coordinator for Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM). “Please consider joining or starting a CERT program in your community, as these teams serve an important role in emergency management."

In order for CERTs to be successful, they must gain and maintain community buy-in and volunteers. To better understand why a community should have a CERT and how to reach volunteers, Denise Wright, emergency manager for Waseca County, answers a series of questions to provide her perspective. Denise has helped establish one of the more successful CERT programs in the state with Waseca County.

What benefits do you see the CERT program providing communities like Waseca County?  
I feel the biggest benefit is having trained volunteers who can assist after a disaster when first responders are busy or until they can get on the scene.

How have you been so successful in recruiting volunteers to participate in the CERT program?
Our main recruitment is at our county fair, where we have a booth answering questions and signing people up for our fall class. Also, our members are great at telling their friends and neighbors about CERT.

Annually, CERT members volunteer to work events in the community.  Events like steak fries at the Waseca American Legion, breakfast at the Waseca VFW and first aid sites at local parades. This gives us an opportunity to engage with people in our community and answer questions about the group while wearing our CERT shirts and hats.

We feel the more the community sees us out and about, the more familiar they will be with us, which is important when they see our bright shirts or vests, they know we are there to help.  

In your opinion, what do people volunteering get from being a part of the CERT program?
I feel it's the satisfaction of doing something good for our county and being able to assist when needed. Last year, we had a young girl who was lost, and the CERT team was called out to assist in the search. I know many CERT members were thankful to be able to assist in this effort and to have had the training to assist them while searching.

What is something you would like people to know about the CERT program that they may not already know?
Your training doesn't stop at the county or neighborhood you live in. It can also be used when on vacation, at a family gathering or when you encounter a crash site.

When one of our members moves out of our county, we tell them to keep their equipment because they have the knowledge and the equipment to assist them if they ever need it.

Visit the HSEM website to learn more about joining or starting a CERT in your community. ​