Effective community response to disaster: exploring the role of community emergency-response teams

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Effective community response to disaster: exploring the role of community emergency-response teams
Cantrell, Randall
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Effective Community Response to Disaster: Exploring the Role of Community Emergency Response Teams 1 M.A. Brennan 2 R.A. Cantrell, M. Spranger, and M. Kumaran 3 This paper is part of a series of discussions on the impact of community action in response to natural and other disasters. Introduction Communities are vulnerable to natural and other hazards. Hurricanes such as Hurricane Katrina in 2004 are certainly not a new, nor the only, hazard facing the communities along the Gulf Coast of the United States. The human caused Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010 was an unanticipated hazard that impacted Gulf of Mexico c ommunities But the natural hazards of hurricanes and tropical storms bring into focus the constant reality that community residents are often the front line of disaster response. While both urban and rural communities find themselves grappling with inexplicable turmoil in the midst and wake of these disasters of rural communities are often at the periphery of the focus of media attention and large scale emergency response. This reality is linked to a larger trend : r ural communities increasingly find themselves shouldering responsibility for meeting the emergency needs of local residents. Community Based Emergency Response Teams A relatively new approach to local involvement in disaster response is emerging across counties and communities in the United States. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program seeks to train and empower local community residents to shoulder the responsibility of being first responders to emergencies. The CERT concept was first developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. This concept of locally trained citizens quickly spread throughout the United States. CERTs, which are administered by Citizen Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FE MA ) within the Department of Homeland Security, blend a bottom up appreciation for the role of local volunteers in emergency response with a top down institutional framework to facilitate training and coordination. Today, there are more than 2,200 register ed CERTs in the United States ; Florida alone has 116 CERTs (FEMA, 2013) There is much promise in the CERT program as a strategy for local empowerment and effective disaster response in rural communities. To be effective, however, the CERT program needs to adaptable to different levels of local capacity and broadly represent the citizenry it is intended to protect and serve. It is also possible that by developing local capacity for disaster response, CERT teams may be able to expand their ap plicability to non disaster community development activities. While CERTs have predominantly focused on disaster preparedness and recovery, this does not necessarily need to be the case. CERTs provide a framework for convening localities to prepare in times of need. This process of building community and response structures has application beyond the context of disasters. In rural communities with high


disaster response capacity, established networks, infrastructures, and a lliances likely already exist and allow a community to plan for its needs and build on its strengths to achieve desired goals. Such capacity for providing these community services does not always exist but can be cultivated encouraged and empowered. Cooperative Extension and other change agents can play a leading role in this process. Where capacity for community involvement in disaster response or broader development is lower, CERT programs provide a potential framework for both. Including Everyone in Community Responses to Disaster A critical aspect of CERT effectiveness and potential for expanding into community development or other roles is representation of the entire local population. Convening diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and other groups provides a host of resources and experiences, but more importantly provides transparency in the local decision making process. In all communities, a variety of groups exist with diverse skills and abilities combined with personal and professional experiences that are essential to successful preparation and response to disasters (Independent Sector, 2001). Included are residents with needed professional and trade skills for damage control and assessment (engi neers, environmental scientists, architects, contractors, and skilled laborers); disaster preparedness and response training (VFW, retired military/national guard/police); medical, psychological and social service delivery experience (health practitioners, counselors, religious/civic groups); and long time residents who have witnessed previous responses to natural disasters. Such groups and individuals are also directly suited to local empowerment and community development that serves to enhance rural well being. Effective community response to disaster and other local needs connects diverse groups within the locality. Successfully linking local organizations, citizens, and leaders provides a network and method for local citizens and groups to become active ly involved in local preparedness and response efforts and beyond. Individuals currently involved in CERTs are also likely to provide strong personal and professional connections which can link local interests to state/federal agencies and other outside e ntities. Such connections and partnerships can facilitate access to information, resources, training, and finances necessary to build local capacities. In this way, CERTs can act as bridges between local and extra local resources not only to prepare and r espond to disaster, but also directly shape rural well being as part of rural development efforts. Since rural communities are often situated in a unique interface between the physical environment and society, local residents are important to the managemen t of natural resources. CERTs can provide the human resources, initiative, and framework for gathering and disseminating information important to environmental decision making. Such effort is not far removed from disaster preparedness efforts. Linking loc al land use and natural resource management with risk mitigation and disaster preparedness weaves together an integrated approach to protecting ecological and human well being. A model of expanding the traditional role of CERTs can be found in Alachua Cou nty, Florida where local CERT volunteers were involved in surveying local farmers about drought protection practices and other natural resource management efforts. Building relationships in quiet times creates a valuable network and sense of community to tap into in times of emergency or disaster. Conclusion


CERTS can provide a variety of services and increase local capacities for responding to disaster. They can also conceivably do more. Part of this effort will involve a reconsideration of how we view disasters. Emergencies and disasters take many forms in different regions of the US. Hurricanes and flooding are a recurring theme in the US Gulf States H uman caused disasters such as the Deep Horizo n Oil Spill can also have major unanticipated community impacts. The threat of terrorism is also a primary concern for local community preparedness and security efforts. However, disasters in the form of rapid economic decline (e.g., loss of farming, mining, forestry, manufacturing jobs) and environmental change (e.g., drought, forest disturbance) have equally detrimental impacts on rural quality of life and well being. CERT programs present the potential to help communities respond to nontraditional disasters and to directly shape local capacity for rural development. R ecent disasters in the southeast U S highlight what has been suspected by experts: local residents will be first responders and likely on their own for days or weeks. In the event of nontraditional and economic disasters the pro cess may last years or longer. References and Suggested Reading Berke, P., J. Kartez, and D. Wenger. 1993. Recovery after Disaster: Achieving Sustainable Development, Mitigation and Equity. Disasters 17(2):93 109. Brennan, M.A., C. Flint, and R. Barnett. 2005.Community Volunteers: The Front Line of Disaster Response. Journal of Volunteer Administration. 23(4): 52 56. Fede ral Emergency Management Agency. 2013. The Community Emergency Response Team. emergency response teams Flint, C. and M.A. Brennan. 2006. The Rural Context of Disaster: Exploring the Role of Community Emergency Response Teams. Rural Realities Independent Sector. 2001. Giving and Volunteering in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Independent Sector. Usefu l Web Sites 1. Florida CERT programs, 2. Alachua County, FL CERT program, 3. US Citizen Corps, corps 4. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), emergency response teams 5. National Citizen Corps Council Partners, http://www.citizen 6. Corporation for National and Community Service, 7. US Citizen Fire Corps, 8. US On Watch Neighborhood Watch Program, 9. Medical Reserves Corps, 10. Volunteers in Police Service,


11. Citizen Corps Affiliate Programs and Organizations, Footnotes 1. This document is FCS9255, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date July 2006. Reviewed: Janua ry 2009 and June 2013 Visit the EDIS Web Site at 2. M. A. Brennan, former facul t y member ; R.A. Cantrell, A ssistant Professor; M. Kumaran, Assistant Professor, and Michael Spranger, Professor ; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611 3. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions o r affiliations. For more information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooper ative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, Dean.