CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, originated in 1983 in California. Following the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, FEMA recognized the value of community-based readiness in the event of a disaster and decided to make the concept and the program available nationwide in 1993. In 2013 volunteers in Hamilton County organized a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and CERT Services was formed to support the local CERT program.
The CERT program is designed to bring together and educate interested citizens in preparedness for hazards and disasters that may impact their local communities. Training takes place both in the classroom and outside training exercises. The concept is centered around teaching basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations and many other skills such as CPR-AED and Stop the Bleed. One of the many strengths of the program is “there’s a place and role for everyone” regardless of skill level or background.
In 2021 CERT Services was requested to expand our mission to include the acceptance of donations supporting local emergency responders as government agencies are prevented from accepting donations. Upon agreement by the Board of Directors by-laws were amended, and Friends of Hamilton County Emergency Services was formed enabling designated donations to be accepted and distributed to Hamilton County Emergency aid organizations.
Hamilton County currently fields six local strike teams based in Fishers, Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield, Cicero, and Britton Falls. Teams meet once a month and members can attend county-wide monthly training and exercises. If you are interested in joining a local CERT program go to https://hamiltoncounty.in.gov/CERT for more information and to apply.
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
The CERT program started in Los Angeles, California in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Following the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, the need for training civilians to respond immediately to a disaster became evident.
In 1993, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make the concept and program available to communities nationwide and the CERT program was created.
The CERT Program was designed to educate people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their local area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.
Hamilton County CERT Program
The CERT program in Hamilton County began with two individual fire departments sponsoring teams. As early as 2004, the City of Westfield Fire Department sponsored a CERT team. The Carmel Fire Department trained two teams in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, FEMA funding support was no longer available.
Colonel Dwight Dickerson began the CERT program in Hamilton County, Indiana in 2010 with Hamilton County Emergency Management as the sponsoring agency and served as the first county-wide Coordinator in Hamilton County.
He brought onboard Colonel Jonathan Baldwin to assist with the training in 2012 with the plan for Jon to move into the Coordinator position upon Colonel Dickerson’s retirement.
In 2012, the CERT program was no longer receiving any FEMA or state monetary support. The Hamilton County Emergency Management (HCEM) agency became the county-wide sponsor of the CERT program, but had no funding or budget to support the training, supplies and equipment needs of the CERT program. The CERT program needed some basic funds in order to provide classes and practical exercises for program members.
In 2013 Jonathan Baldwin took over the reigns as Coordinator and began building a staff and implementing an Incident Command structure. In order to provide some very basic funding, the initial staff members of the program would donate $1 each time they met.
In about 2016, the Westfield and Carmel CERT teams merged with the county-wide program under the sponsorship of Hamilton County Emergency Management.
Hamilton County CERT Services
In June of 2012, the first official meeting of HC CERT Services was held with the initial board of directors:
- Colonel Dwight Dickerson, Director
- Colonel Jonathan Baldwin, Deputy Director
- Dianna Glass, Secretary
- Lynn Epperson, Treasurer
The purpose of Hamilton County CERT Services was “to raise the necessary funding and supplies required to permit the Hamilton County Community Emergency Response Team program to complete their mission.”
The first meeting established the leadership of the organization, adopted the By-Laws, and established the Articles of Incorporation. A Code of Conduct, Mission Statement and banking were determined.
Lynn Epperson began the arduous task of establishing the official 501(c)(3) non-profit status for the organization. It took almost a year to complete the process and to receive the Letter of Authorization from the IRS. Effective September 26, 2014, Hamilton County CERT Services was recognized as a Public Charity retroactive to June 18, 2012. CERT Services could now collect tax-deductible and in-kind donations to support the CERT Program in Hamilton County.
During this time, the Executive Director of HCEM determined that there should be no connection between the HC CERT program and HC CERT Services Board of Directors in anticipation of conflicts with county-funded support and the non-profit status. This resulted in Colonel Jonathan Baldwin’s removal from the Board of Directors. Hamilton County staff members were no longer permitted to be on the CERT Services Board of Directors.
Early funding of CERT Services continued to be an issue. Members were making purchases out of their own pockets and asking for donations from local businesses to support the CERT program. The CERT program received support from doctor’s offices and hospitals for our medical training and practice; contractor supply and lumber businesses helped with scrap supplies to help with search and rescue training practice. Some fire stations donated a few items. The remaining materials came from our own purchases, garages and homes.
The turning point for fundraising efforts was the 2018 and 2019 AMP series of concerts in Fishers, Indiana. The city hired HC CERT Services to provide parking and traffic management. This provided a small contingency of funds to continue providing support to the CERT program.
As of 2021, the Board of Directors had stabilized and the Hamilton County CERT program had a solid direction and a growing membership.
Friends of Hamilton County Emergency Services
In 2021, Shane Booker, Executive Director of Hamilton County Emergency Services approached the organization with a request to expand the mission of HC CERT Services using the example of Friends of Hamilton County Parks, Inc. in partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Parks.
The Board of Directors concurred and updated the By-Laws to enable the organization to collect funds and disburse money to individuals and other emergency services providers during an emergency. FHCES now includes the ability to raise funds for training and education to other emergency services providers in Hamilton County with the express and exclusive approval of the Board of Directors.
The By-Laws and name changes to Friends of Hamilton County Emergency Services Corp. became effective March 24, 2021. A Certificate of Assumed Business name was filed with the Hamilton County Recorder on March 26, 2021. This allows FHCES to continue to use the name HC CERT Services on our current fundraising sites and in fundraising activities exclusively for the CERT program.