CERT and Community Caring

Colleen Adler

Colleen was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

My name is Colleen Adler and I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change. It is an important recognition that I share with West Pierce Fire & Rescue and all the CERT members that make our program a success.

I am the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for West Pierce Fire & Rescue (WPFR) in Washington State.  The West Pierce Fire & Rescue CERT program was established in 2008 after the Fire Chief asked if I would be willing to take on this project.   At the time, I was working in the 911 center and was excited at the prospect of engaging with citizens prior to an emergency rather than in the midst of one.  The program aimed to develop a cadre of skilled community members who would be an asset to the fire district during emergency situations. 

I was fortunate to have a few months to investigate other CERT programs and research best practices for engaging citizens.  Since I was building our program from scratch I was able to decide which criteria were most important for a successful program.  My primary goal was to collaborate with citizens so everyone would view themselves as a stakeholder in the program.  In order to achieve this it was important each person felt they were respected and had a role to play in CERT.  The best way to show respect is to know the names of the participants and recognize their individual skill set andsince our program has grown to over 400 trained CERT members, this has been a challenge, but one I continue to strive to achieve.

Our program continues to grow due to the support of the fire district and the trained CERT members.  A key reason for success is the fire-based instructors who are engaging and respectful.  Honoring the efforts of citizens who have busy lives, our instructors shared information with them in a conversational method rather than provide data in a strictly instructional method.  The CERT members who complete training are charged with spreading the word as ambassadors of the program.  Standout members who have enthusiasm and time are encouraged to become CERT Team Leaders and Advisors, continuing the policy of citizen ownership.  We have also been fortunate to have an AmeriCorps volunteer each year since 2009.  These volunteers provide essential outreach to our diverse population and are critical to the success of the program.

With the help of CERT Citizen Advisors, the WPFR CERT team developed a  platform to not only recruit and train members, but also to create a program that will engage and empower the whole community by bringing together a diverse population with a similar goal: caring for each other and their community in a time of need.  As a result of providing ownership of the program to the members, we have been able to reach a variety of people.   Among West Pierce CERT members there are: members of the military and military veterans, people with disabilities, unemployed individuals, people who speak English as a second language, city hall employees, social workers, city council members, church clergy, nurses, college students, teachers, retired first responders, insurance agents, business owners, truck drivers, marine biologists, bakers, and the list goes on.  These members create a network comprised of individuals representing partnerships with organizations, businesses, and the public all over Lakewood and University Place.

Colleen Adler is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for West Pierce Fire & Rescue in Washington State.  

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