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Community Emergency Response Team training underway

When disaster strikes a community, CERT volunteers step up to assist first responders

Image of CERT gear including duct tape, dust mask, knee pads, goggles, shears, vest, whistle, lightstick, magic marker and lumber crayon. // Photo courtesy of Joe Loong

On Jan. 24, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) began an eight-week training to teach community volunteers how to provide help in the case of an emergency. 

CERT is a federally and locally funded emergency response organization that falls under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) umbrella. The program acts as a support system in the case of a disaster when first responders are not available. In Whatcom County, the deputy director of the sheriff’s office will deploy the volunteers when an emergency has been deemed a disaster. 

 “I think that CERT training really focuses on you and your community. That is who's going to save you when everything falls apart,” said Western Washington University student Vivien Coop, who took the CERT training for her U.S. Disaster Policy class and is currently applying to become a Whatcom County registered emergency responder. 

Doug Bestle has been the volunteer Program Manager of CERT since Aug. 15, 2022. He said FEMA sets the criteria for the classes CERT teaches and also offers additional courses.

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WWU students after finishing the final response training simulation for the CERT course. The students completed the training for their Environmental Studies class. // Photo courtesy of Doug Bestle

The basic training consists of eight sessions, one night a week, with a different topic each session. The course includes a medical component, lessons on search and rescue, disaster psychology, terrorism, disaster preparedness and more. Learning these skills is the prerequisite for certification in CERT’s basic training, and acts as a foundation to then pursue other FEMA training if desired. 

Safety for oneself is one of CERT’s primary values. 

“If you injure yourself trying to help somebody else, that now makes you someone that has to be helped. So now you've doubled the problem,” Bestle said. 

CERT teaches the idea of helping yourself first, then your family, neighbors and eventually your broader community. CERT has also been recently deployed in Whatcom County for major flooding, and previously for COVID-19 response. 

“We had CERT volunteers that really helped pull off a variety of things,” said Liz Coogan,  emergency manager for The City of Bellingham. 

The volunteers helped gather and organize donated PPE supplies and set up COVID-19 testing sites and vaccine clinics. 

Bestle was busy for two years volunteering during this time. He helped collect and distribute food bank donations, ran the donation center for masks, helped with COVID-19 testing for one year at Civic Field and Lynden and supported the health department with immunizations. 

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Photo of Whatcom County’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) logo. // Photo courtesy of The Whatcom County website

“They were crucial to our ability to respond. [CERT] put in hundreds, if not thousands of volunteer hours that really kept our community going,” Coogan said. “It made me think of Mr. Rogers.” 

Coogan is the emergency manager for the fire department and works in the same facility as Bestle. Although they work for different departments, there is some overlap. The shared facility hosts similar programs such as Emergency Medical Services operations, Local Emergency Planning Committee and the Special Emergency Response Program. 

“My favorite part is at the end of all your trainings and you practice all these skills, you have a disaster simulation,” Coop said. “I highly recommend anybody get certified and trained or even just doing the basic training; it's an amazing way to help your community.”

CERT’s current training session goes until March 14, and the next session will start at the end of March. Registration for the training opportunity will open soon on the Whatcom County website.

Lauren Eydt

Lauren Eydt (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism pre-major and is working on a Fairhaven or studio arts double major. Lauren also loves to crochet, pet her cat and watch movies all at the same time.

You can reach her at

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