The Benefits & Challenges of Campus Emergency Response Teams
Because they have strong partnerships with local first responders as well as robust communications networks and a significant number of faculty with expertise in emergency preparedness and other disciplines, institutions of higher learning can offer highly effective CERT programs.
Campus Emergency Response Teams (CERT) provide both unique opportunities and challenges within their communities. Campus environments, not unlike other private sector organizations, adhere to the basic principles and training of the national CERT program but have learned to adapt and often enhance the scope to meet the specific needs of an academic institution. CERT programs on college and university campuses continue to grow. It would be a safe assumption to say that each campus has used the basic CERT guidelines but have tweaked their program to meet their needs.
College CERT Programs Provide Effective Training
College campuses operate as communities within communities. As a result, they offer the opportunity to use the existing relationships between students, faculty and staff to develop a diverse CERT program. Incorporating these different populations allows the information provided in CERT training to reach all levels of the community, and, at the same time, improves interaction between the groups by encouraging discourse. Each of the three groups brings different resources to a campus CERT program.
Students are a source of enthusiasm and outreach through contacts with other campus organizations, such as professional societies, Greek organizations and other emergency related groups. Faculty members bring high levels of expertise in their respective fields, many of which can be applied to emergency management or campus safety. Campus staff provide a professional working knowledge of campus resources and capabilities. By combining this level of knowledge and skill, these teams are able to apply the training much more effectively.
Campus CERT programs are able to use existing channels to develop and disseminate information. Most college campuses have an existing framework for the development of new student organizations. By working within these groups, a CERT program has the ability to reach numerous other organizations and students. Students can be reached not only through meetings but also through designated recruitment periods, such as freshman orientations.
Communication pathways are also generally established for developing organizations and announcing events, which reduces some of the resources necessary for obtaining a wide reach on campus in comparison to community CERT programs. Campus E-mail servers and existing newsletters can serve as well-established means of communication already utilized widely by students. Working with other student and professional organizations can also create new partnerships and membership. Medical, amateur radio and outdoor activities organizations are often interested in working with CERT programs to use their skills and develop through additional training.
Collaboration Helps With Drills, Resources
Perhaps the most valuable part of campus CERT programs comes from collaboration with other emergency response organizations. The campus-centered focus of police departments and other public safety offices such as emergency management, health and safety departments, and facilities management can assist with training and drill development to improve internal preparedness. In turn, CERT members can also act as actors in drills involving these agencies and local responders. This adds realism and interest to on-campus training and allows for more extensive and complex drills.
These agencies may also have resources that can help expand training and increase the efficacy of campus CERT programs. An excellent example is emergency communications equipment. While few CERT organizations have their own communications equipment, a police department or public safety office may have hand-held radios that can be used for the span of a drill in order to provide CERT members with exposure to these devices and add another facet to their training.
Campus CERT programs can also help with public outreach for agencies through distribution of information during safety events and orientations. This also increases the exposure for the CERT team, leading to its own growth. Beyond the boundaries of its home campus, a CERT program can work with local community CERT programs and other campus programs to expand training and relationships.
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