Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

About CERT

CERT logo

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area. CERT trains county residents in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

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CERT Training

CERT crew working

People who go through CERT training have a better understanding of the potential threats to their home and community and can take the right steps to lessen the effects of these hazards on themselves or their workplace. If a disaster happens that overwhelms local response capability, CERT members can apply the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to give critical support to their family, loved ones or associates in their immediate area until help arrives. When help does arrive, CERTs provide useful information to responders and support their efforts, as directed, at the disaster site. CERT members can also assist with non-emergency projects that improve the safety of the community. CERTs have been used to distribute and/or install smoke alarms, replace smoke alarm batteries in the home of elderly, distribute disaster education material, provide services at special events, such as parades, sporting events, concerts and more.

Local government prepares for everyday emergencies. However, there can be an emergency or disaster that can overwhelm the community's immediate response capability. While adjacent jurisdictions, state and federal resources can activate to help, there may be a delay for them getting to those who need them. The primary reason for CERT training is to give people the decision-making, organizational, and practical skills to offer immediate assistance to family members, neighbors and associates while waiting for help. While people will respond to others in need without the training, the goal of the CERT program is to help people do so effectively and efficiently without placing themselves in unnecessary danger.

Fairfax County is unique because it has three distinct levels of CERT training. This tiered CERT program allows residents to learn of disaster preparedness and mitigation at a pace more amenable to their work schedules and other commitments.

Residents are trained at CERT basic and CERT 2 training levels to activate in case of major disasters only; CERT members deploy only in disaster situations of such large scale that regular emergency services are overwhelmed or response action may be greatly delayed. Students are trained to respond within their neighborhoods to help their neighbors during these times. CERT instructors teach that CERT basic and CERT 2 members are to activate for duty "when you pick up the phone to call 9-1-1, and 9-1-1 isn't there to answer." CERT members will not be at car accident scenes, nor will they help at the scene of a house fire. They are used in mass casualty/major disasters only, e.g. Hurricane Katrina, major flooding, etc. CERT 2 and CERT 3 members are trained to operate for up to three days without outside assistance, using materials that can be found on scene. CERT basic and CERT 2 members are taught to recruit and train their neighbors to help in carrying out their duties.

CERT Levels

CERT basic is an ideal, low impact way to learn about the need to prepare. The curriculum is the same as the CERT 2 class uses minus lifts and patient cribbing. CERT basic class is designed to be taught using another unique CERT resource — a well trained and highly motivated cadre of volunteer instructors. This class is designed to be mobile and can be taught in your neighborhood. This is a great opportunity for homeowners' associations, faith based groups and civic associations to train 16-24 people in their own facility. CERT basic takes approximately 21 hours over five or six classes, plus a final exercise. For those CERT basic students who wish to move forward to CERT 2 level, a “bridge” course is offered. The optional “bridge” course to move from CERT basic to Level 2 will require 17½ hours over five classes. Students may also start at CERT Level 2 if they choose.

CERT 2 is far more "hands on." Fairfax County CERT is famous for combining a well taught curriculum along with practical, very challenging yet safely conducted training scenarios. In CERT, the most important person is "me" — personal CERT safety first. When taking CERT 2 classes, there is a disaster every night to which students must respond.

In CERT basic and CERT 2 class, students learn to triage large numbers of injured people. In one recent exercise there were 168 "victims" to extricate, triage, treat and keep alive. Students also learn how to conduct light search and rescue operations. CERT 2 adds training such as moving a 9,000 pound piece of a roadway bridge using materials at hand to get to trapped victims. Students learn radio techniques, disaster psychology, proper use of fire extinguishers and how to administer lifesaving first aid. The CERT 2 class is 28 hours in length, plus the final exercise. CERT 2 classes are held at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy on West Ox Road.

CERT 3 level training takes trained and motivated CERT Level 2 members and provides additional training for possible integration within existing county incident command structures. The courses will be led by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue instructors as well as other county agencies. The program will require a successful background check in addition to a written and practical examination that requires a passing score.

CERT training is free of charge at all levels and basic CERT gear is provided. The minimum requirements to participate in CERT training at any level is that residents be 18 years of age or older, and Fairfax County residency. To stay current as a CERT, you must participate in at least one refresher course per calendar year.

Contact Information

If you are interested in signing up for cert training, visit  For all other inquiries, please contact the Fire and Rescue Department Volunteer Liaison’s office at 703-246-4683, TTY 711 or click here. For additional volunteer opportunities in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, visit the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association website.

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

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