After I read Neil Strauss’s Emergency, I signed up for NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) while living in San Francisco. As soon as I moved to Los Angeles, I signed up for the LAFD’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program, which is what Neil actually wrote about. CERT has much more history to it, because it was the first program of its kind in the world. Other programs, such as NERT, are based on the LAFD’s CERT, and they continue to pilot new aspects that get incorporated into FEMA’s framework for other programs.
Every Wednesday from 2 March to 13 April (so for seven weeks), I showed up at my local firehouse after work for a lesson. Obviously there was a good amount of overlap in material from the NERT lessons, so I breezed through the lessons. However, there are some interesting differences.
First, on an overall classroom aspect, I liked that NERT had two firefighters teaching every class. One would take the lead on the day’s lesson, but the other would chime in with additional information or a slightly different explanation, which I felt made it easier to absorb. Not to take away from the CERT instructor, whom I liked a lot.
Also, I liked that NERT had more hands-on skills demonstrations. When we learned about putting out fires, the firefighters took us outside and lit a diesel fire in a metal pan for us to practice using an extinguisher on. (In CERT, it was an optional after-class lesson with an electronic extinguisher and a fire sensor.) For the lesson on search and rescue, we went outside and practiced cribbing with 2x4s. Our “final exam” involved doing an simulated search and rescue (complete with volunteer victims with varying injuries) in a darkened theater. Both CERT and NERT did do hands-on practice of first aid, though.
And finally, in terms of follow-up, I think CERT offers more. Besides the Level 1 training I received, there are Level 2 and Level 3 trainings available. They also have CERT assist the LAFD on a more regular basis. I feel like NERT had regular NERT drills (which do involve the SFFD to some extent), but not much in the way of live action. Both offer advanced options for HAM radio operators in case
Either way, no matter where you live, I highly recommend you sign up for CERT, NERT, or whatever your local equivalent is. As impressed upon by both of the trainings I have been to, you determine your own level of involvement. If you want to go above and beyond at the time when a disaster strikes and join up with others to go on city-wide search and rescue, that is excellent! But even if you do not, this training will give you the knowledge and tools you need to help yourself and your loved ones in the more-than-likely scenario that emergency services cannot reach you.