Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 May 2011

CERT and performance support

Clark @ 6:15 AM

I’ve just completed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training (except a final live drill in a nearby neighborhood), and I’ve been impressed with the thought that’s gone into the task.  The situation is that in a major emergency natural or man-made: tsunami, terror attack, tornado, hurricane, explosion, or in our case, earthquakes, the capabilities of first-responders (police, paramedics, fire) will be overwhelmed.

The plan is that volunteer teams trained to take initial action as a mechanism to save lives. The situation would be grim.  If it’s needed, there will be life-threatening injuries, death, damage, and more. And even trained responders will be under considerable stress.

Consequently, the design is very focused, making sure the volunteer responders are safe, not going beyond their training, and first identifying and categorizing the help needed, before actually taking any action.  It’s hard to think about having to barely help someone (particularly, say, a child) and moving on, but that’s what will achieve the best result overall, as they repeatedly tell us.

To facilitate, they’ve done an impressive job of providing resources to optimize the chances for success. They’re focused on communication and task support as really the two key things. In addition to the training, they’ve provided resources and very specific performance support tools.

If and when such an event happens, everyone knows where they’re supposed to report, and how to get going. The first thing found is a folder that as soon as you open it, it starts telling you exactly what to do. If you follow the directions, you’ll be led to create a team, check in, and head off on the first area needing to be searched.

There are guidance forms for everything, and even simple things like blank paper behind a template with cutouts to store info, then share via radio. Then you rip out the sheet, and another blank one is behind.

It’s hard to remember everything you’re supposed to do (only 2 people do the physical search, one scribes, one leads; call out to see if anyone’s there first; assess structural safety; mark what’s found and move on, the list goes on).  But there are tools and job aids for everything, so it’s hard to go wrong.  And that’s important, because this will likely be a situation where cool and calm are out the window.

It’s reassuring to see the thought that’s gone into the tools we have to use. I hope I never have to, but I feel better knowing that if I do, there’s a lot of well-designed support.  I recommend both that you consider getting CERT training, and also look at how they’ve taken a very tough task and broken it down into a command situation.


  1. Sounds like the military; there is a checklist and a standard operating procedure for everything.

    Comment by Harold Jarche — 31 May 2011 @ 8:37 AM

  2. John and I just finished CERT training as well and I felt as you do–it was an extremely well-done course. It allowed those who were a little slower to get the concepts enough time, while those who got the ideas were able, in a sense to become tutors in all the drills.

    Comment by Bobbi Kamil — 31 May 2011 @ 9:33 AM

  3. […] CERT and performance support- Clark Quinn, May 31, 2011 […]

    Pingback by Top 50 Posts on Working Smarter for May 2011 — 31 May 2011 @ 10:23 PM

  4. Hi Clark,

    A few years ago I participated as a design consultant on several intensive catastrophe prevention/response simulations in which CERT was an essential component. One of the most severe challenges in many response situation involves which first-response profession assumes the role of Incident Commander and how that role transitions as the situation develops. Sometimes this is clear, many times it isn’t.


    Comment by Larry Irons — 9 July 2011 @ 7:50 AM

  5. As long as support is not REPLACED by checklists, this sounds great

    Comment by @dan_steer — 13 July 2011 @ 11:56 AM

  6. Now with Twitter and Facebook, fortunately it’s easier to get real time updates in critical times like when disaster strikes. When I did disaster recovery documentation 4 to 5 years ago, we didn’t have social media playing such an integral part of our work lives. The old-fashioned telephone tree has become now almost obsolete. Disaster recovery plans are essential (we lived through Hurricane Andrew where I live, and were hard hit!) but fortunately we can now access information from anywhere via cloud based platforms like Google docs and Dropbox or Box.net and documentation to help in recovery should be posted there in ADVANCE of disaster. Despite occasional hiccups like false reports and rumors on Twitter, social media has done a lot to help allocate aid in times of disaster, like coordinated efforts to help the Red Cross in responding to the Japanese earthquake and Pacific tsunami situation. Social support does a lot to both help people cope and recover emotionally from disaster and also find and share resources that help.

    Comment by Ann H. Shea — 13 July 2011 @ 1:55 PM

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