CERTips – Etiquette Edition By Earle Hartling

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “an etiquette lesson from this guy?” Alright, I’ll admit I’m no Miss Manners, but I have been around this CERT thing long enough to have seen the potential for relationship problems between CERT members when participating in emergency response activities. I’ve seen conflicts happen during drills when we’re just practicing; if such incidents occur during the real thing, we could be in for a lot of trouble. The following are just a few of the, let’s say “behavioral missteps”, that I’ve noticed along with the problems they could cause.

Who’s the Boss?

If you remember back to the Incident Command System part of the CERT training class (you do remember, don’t you?), you’ll recall that every functional group of an emergency response effort has a leader. For example, from the Incident Commander we go down to the Operations Branch Director, then to the Search and Rescue Group Manager and finally to leader of Search Team No. 1. Each team, or group, or branch has just ONE boss who directs the efforts of his or her teammates in their area of responsibility. It’s not a democracy, it’s not a debate society; like it or not, it’s command and control. Otherwise, we have chaos.

Consider this scenario: Our Search Team No. 1 lead has been directed by the S&R Group Manager to search the top two floors of a building. Along the way, some injured victims are found. One team member insists that they abandon the building search and carry the victims out of the building, an argument ensues and nothing is accomplished. The team member that insisted on varying from their assigned task was WRONG! Even if that team had extracted the victims it had found, they would have failed in their mission. Why? Because now no one is searching the rest of the building and other victims that may be in there won’t be found. Every job is important and must be completed for the entire response “plan” to work. We’ve seen this during our final drills, and we’ve wound up with teams getting lost, victims left in the building, multiple teams trying to do the same job, etc. What the team leader says, goes.

This doesn’t mean that team members can’t provide input to the team leader. After all, two heads (or three or four) are better than one. Team leaders should respect this input and take it into consideration. For example, when a team member says, “I’m wiped out, I need to sit down for a minute and have a drink of water,” or “the ceiling in that room looks like it’s ready to collapse,” the team leader should not try to force the team to go ahead with its assigned task immediately, but inform his or her supervisor of the team’s change in status so that the response plan can be adjusted accordingly.


Did I sound like your mother? Yelling at a teammate to be heard over ambient noise or to warn them of danger is one thing, but to yell at them just because you’re ticked off is quite another. This kind of disrespectful exchange is counterproductive, and can affect the psychological well being of the victims we’re trying to help. I’m sure I wouldn’t feel too great about my chances of being rescued if the rescuers are screaming at each other and calling each other names. Excuse me, a little help here!

As bad as this type of behavior is during the stress of a real emergency, it is REALLY unacceptable when it occurs during a drill, when there shouldn’t be that kind of pressure. In this case, we’re not worried about what the victims are thinking about us, but what our neighbors and fellow Culver City citizens are thinking when they see us out in public acting like this. We want to earn the respect and trust of the general public because of our professionalism and competency, and we’d like to recruit new members to the organization because of our performance. Angrily shouting at other CERT members in the middle of the street does serious damage to our reputation and credibility with the community.

Why Charleton Heston Isn’t in CERT (aside from the fact that he’s been dead for years)

Because CERT is an unarmed volunteer group, that’s why. The sole purpose of CERT is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while maintaining the safety of the rescuers. And for this reason, the carrying of weapons (knives, handguns, spears, bazookas, etc.) is NEVER PERMITTED during a meeting, drill, picnic, class or any CERT function, even a real-life emergency. And I know what you’re asking and, yes, a Swiss Army knife is an appropriate tool in your call-out bag. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

CERT’s mission does not include crowd control, security, protection of property, law enforcement or anything else that might require the use of a weapon. During a CERT disaster activation, we will rely on the CCPD and not untrained civilians with guns for security and protection, if that becomes necessary (just like the Fire Department does). Yes, I know that most of the weapons I previously listed are legal to own and some people even have permits from the Police Department that allow them to carry handguns in public. However, our policy is clear: you may not be in possession of a weapon during a CERT function. Period. If you are found with a weapon at a one of our functions, you will be asked to leave immediately and, depending on the circumstances, you may also be suspended or expelled from the CERT program. This is for the safety of all CERT members.