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During a two-day Community Emergency Response Team basic training, sponsored by the Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Management, volunteers responded to simulated emergencies.
Photo Credit: Paul Ruffins

On Feb. 25, the search and rescue team carried the first victim out into the lobby of 7915 Anchor Street in Landover, then went back into the rear to look for other survivors. Delores Taylor, of the medical team, asked the thin older man, “Sir, do you know what happened? Are you hurt?”

“After the roof caved in, a cabinet fell on me,” he moaned. “I can’t move this arm. It hurts really bad.” 

“I’m a doctor,” said Linda Green. “Is it OK for me to check you out?” 


After finding no head or neck injuries, Green discovered a rectangular 2-inch bulge near the victim’s left wrist. As Taylor gently rolled back his long-sleeved shirt, Green warned, “This could be a compound fracture.”  

Cert Aid
Linda Green (left) and Delores Taylor practice splinting a “broken arm” during a search and rescue exercise.
Photo Credit: Paul Ruffins

“No,” Taylor laughed. “It’s two granola bars.”

“Yeah,” the victim replied. “These exercises take a long time, so I always bring some snacks.”

This simulated emergency came at the end of a two-day Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) basic training, sponsored by the Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Green, a retired physician, is a member of the Mount Rainier CERT team. It has been in operation since March 2017, and its members have participated in several other trainings, including “Stop the bleed,” directing traffic, and using Narcan to help reverse drug overdoses. 

Taylor was one of three students from a new CERT team being developed in Hyattsville.

C. Reginald “Reggie” Bagley, Hyattsville’s emergency operations manager, said, “Hyattsville had a CERT team several years ago, but it became inactive. We’re reinvigorating it because there were people in the community who expressed an interest, which has only grown since the recent flooding incidents and the train derailment.”

CERT teams have a semi-official status that is different from Red Cross or Boy Scout volunteers.  Under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and OEM rules, Hyattsville’s CERT team must be chartered by the city council, who would then provide insurance and possibly some funding and equipment, such as radios. 

“Next year I hope to ask for $5,000, which would be a reasonable minimum to equip a team for a town this size,” Bagley said. “However, I don’t want to start applying for a charter until I have 20 people who have been willing to commit a weekend to completing the basic training. Right now, I have about 12.”

When the class introduced itself, Taylor explained that she had some first-aid training because she was a veteran of the Marine Corps, and that joining CERT was another way to help and protect her community. This response was pretty typical. Though a knowledge of emergency procedures isn’t required to join, most of the dozen or so CERT volunteers had some prior training. There was also a nurse, and another Hyattsville volunteer, Tommy Fox, reported that he received fire and first-aid training working as a safety officer in an industrial plant. 

All of the instructors were former military personnel, professional EMTs, or both. One had participated in the search and rescue after the 1995 bombing of the Murrow Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, and another had been deployed from Maryland to search through the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

Cert Extingiusher
Volunteers practice using fire extinguishers.
Photo Credit: Paul Ruffins

In 1985, the Los Angeles Fire Department took lessons learned from earthquake responses in Japan and Mexico and developed a program to train a group of community members in basic fire suppression, first-aid, search, and evacuation techniques. After the Oct. 1, 1987, Whittier Narrows earthquake shook much of Southern California, California officials moved to expand CERT training. In 1993, FEMA began spreading the CERT concept nationwide.

After the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, CERT training and funding were greatly expanded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Graduates receive a green backpack containing helmets, reflective vests and other protective gear, along with first-aid and emergency supplies. In addition to hands-on practice in search and rescue and using fire extinguishers, graduates also learn CERT’s priorities and how the Incident Command System (ICS) operates.

“We’ve all been taught that the first thing to do is call 911 for help,” explained Rasheed Plummer, the OEM’s community outreach coordinator. “One thing CERT does is prepare people for when the police and firefighters can’t get there. In that case, the priority is making sure you and your family are safe, then checking on your neighbors.”

CERT volunteers work within the ICS, a formal structure that coordinates local, state and federal responders during a natural disaster or other emergency. The ICS provides a clear framework for different agencies to work together as part of a single chain of command for their response.

“I didn’t learn anything new about first aid,” said Green a few days later, “but this was the first time I ever thought about crawling through rubble like you see in Gaza. For me, the most important lesson was understanding the ICS. This is why I urge everyone with medical skills to get their CERT certificate.”

According to Green, in a chaotic emergency, if you just drive up and say, “I’m a doctor, or nurse or CNA [certified nursing assistant],” you run a good chance of being marginalized because you’re outside the chain of command. “But,” she said, “if you’re on a CERT team, you can use your skills in an organized way.”

Bagley concurs with Green’s assessment of how CERT can amplify community efforts. “During the height of the COVID epidemic, when Hyattsville was running our vaccination and testing clinics, we had a huge traffic jam at every site,” Bagley said. “But we didn’t want to pull the medical personnel off their duties to direct traffic. CERT would have been perfect for that. And when the nurses and others were working for endless hours straight with long lines of people waiting for shots, it would have been great to have a group you could depend upon to go out and get them something to eat.” 


For information about free first-aid training, visit