CERT Resources

Special Topics

Organizing CERT Teams

an organized CERT team responding to an incident

Organizing CERT Teams

Real incidents are chaotic, and CERT members have little or no experience in dealing with the chaos outside of drills and exercises. To bring order to chaos, CERTs are organized under the principles of the Incident Command System (ICS). CERT members, however, may have difficulty understanding how ICS works. This topic provides tips for making ICS easier for CERT members to understand.

Click on the links below to access more information about CERTs and ICS:

Management Principles and ICS

First responders who use ICS daily understand the advantages of flexible organization and manageable span of control that ICS offers. In an actual event, professional responders use ICS to divide activities into functional groups so that:

ICS Functions

ICS functions are similar to those used in the workplace. Management (the Incident Commander) sets priorities and makes decisions about what is to be done based on the information received from staff functions:

Applying ICS Principles to CERTs

In simple terms:

The CERT/ICS Command function is shown in the organization chart below.

CERT organizational chart showing the CERT Leader in command position with the Operations, Logistics, Planning, and Administration Section Chiefs reporting to the CERT Leader.

Expanded CERT Organization

To maintain a manageable span of control, each ICS section can be expanded or contracted as necessary. For example, teams assigned to the Operations Section are shown in the organization chart below. Note that each type of team has a Group Leader who reports directly to the Operations Section Chief.

An expanded CERT Operations Section is shown below. Note that, just as the CERT/ICS organization can expand to meet the needs of an unfolding event, it can also contract as the event winds down.

Expanded CERT organizational chart showing the Operations Section Chief at the top with three groups.  The first group includes a Fire Suppression Group Leader with three Fire Suppression Teams and the Staging Area.  The second group includes the Search and Rescue Group Leader with three Search and Rescue Teams.  The third group includes the Medical Group Leader with a Triage Team, Treatment Team, and Morgue Team.

Training and Exercising

ICS and incident management are areas that will require training beyond that provided in the basic CERT materials. If possible, develop an additional module to provide additional information about how to establish an incident command, select incident facilities, and apply the principles of ICS to CERT.

Finally, provide exercises that allow CERTs to apply what they've learned about ICS in a simulated incident. Be sure to conduct a thorough debriefing so that lessons learned are identified and the CERT members' questions are answered.