Why the Community?

The reasons that emergency preparedness and response readiness are the responsibility of the community isn’t always clear, after all, isn’t that what we pay taxes for?

The truth is, that while emergency, disaster, and catastrophe are related terms, they describe different levels of severity and impact and different situations that require a coordinated response from different people.


An emergency is a sudden, localized situation requiring immediate action to prevent harm or damage. These incidents can range from medical emergencies to small-scale fires and are typically managed locally without extensive resource strain.

A disaster is a large-scale event, often beyond the local capacity to manage, caused by natural, technological, or human factors. Disasters, such as hurricanes, industrial accidents, or terrorism, impact broader regions and may necessitate help from regional, national, or international sources, causing significant damage, disruption, and loss.

A catastrophe is a colossal and devastating event, marked by extensive destruction, suffering, and profound consequences, including high loss of life, massive property damage, and lasting social and economic impacts. These can be natural, such as tsunamis or large volcanic eruptions, or human-made, like nuclear warfare or large-scale terrorism. Catastrophes necessitate substantial national and international resources for long-term recovery.

Our public service system of law enforcement, fire, and emergency medicine is staffed adequately to deal with the first level, an emergency that requires immediate attention but is usually localized and manageable at the local level. A disaster is a more significant event and the demand for trained responders increases by one order of magnitude and can overwhelm local resources and affect a broader area. A catastrophe is an extreme disaster with devastating consequences on a massive scale and the demand for trained responders increases by two orders of magnitude. The severity and scale of the event often determine which term is used to describe it, with a catastrophe being the most severe and consequential.


The impact of a catastrophic disaster is so great that it overwhelms the established emergency response systems. Because 90% of survivors are rescued in the first three days, time is of the essence. Without a disaster response system, these catastrophic incidents can result in significant loss of life, property damage, and long-term social and environmental impacts. The magnitude of response assistance needed in the event of a catastrophic disaster will be as little as ten times and as much as one hundred times the resources of the normal day-to-day emergency response. If a fire department has a 30-member staff, they will need resources of 300 to 3,000 to serve in a disaster response area. When it comes to taxes, we fund the government to provide emergency responses, not disaster responses, so they are unable to provide an adequate response. That means communities must take it upon themselves to prepare and respond.


When disasters strike, affiliations don’t save lives, skills do. Community leaders must be proactive and responsible. It's important to take ownership of the duties to organize and responsibilities to develop a core of neighbors that can contribute to the best of their abilities. True leadership does not stop at a cultural or political barrier and quit, they look for paths through or around the barriers. Unlike bureaucratic government, community members can’t say it’s not my job, we did our part, and the rest is on someone else.

Our American history has taught us - nothing is more valuable than a trained volunteer. The first sheriffs and firefighters in this nation were community volunteers. Volunteers have always been the community’s safety net. Unfortunately, past disasters have shown that some untrained volunteers will pay with their lives. That is why community members work with the FEMA-based Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to develop the capabilities necessary to complement the emergency efforts of first responders. 


CERT programs have proven their value across the nation. So, if the cities are not interested in CERT and the counties are not interested in CERT, the other option FEMA made available is the faith community. The United States Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have already created a plan and a path to send FEMA grants to houses of worship to fund the development of CERT programs. Unlike city-run programs, houses of worship don’t need to work with the fire department or the police department when it comes to CERT. 


Community members, trained through the CERT program learn to fight small fires, search and rescue, emergency medical operations, and trauma psychology. Teaming up with volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, Auxiliary Communication Service, and the American Red Cross, CERT-trained community members can save more lives sooner, and eliminate the loss of volunteer lives.