After the lightning last night, thoughts on Community Emergency Response teams and volunteering

Learn more about volunteering for emergencies. Also: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and dances hosted by nonprofits


How did you like the lightning and thunder show last night? I know that here in the PNW we don’t get storms like that very often (in Texas, we call that April and May), but the severity of the storm made me think about what would happen if (or I guess when) we do have a major disaster emergency.

Various rescue teams aid victims in this community mock disaster drill
Various rescue teams aid victims in this community mock disaster drill

What is CERT?

CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. Team members are neighborhood volunteers who play a role in supporting professional first responders. CERT provides training on how to prepare for disasters in our community as well as basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, and medical operations. What can CERT volunteers do during emergencies?

  • Provide basic first aid
  • Check on neighbors
  • Support local emergency centers
  • Connect disaster survivors to resources
  • Serve meals
  • Distribute information to the public
  • Staff lost child booths at booths and at disaster preparedness events during non-emergency community events

I first learned about CERT following Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Since Houston had gone through several major weather events in the years before, most neighborhoods had a CERT. The CERT would conduct an assessment of their neighborhood and inform the first responders if anyone needed their help. That way first responders could respond more strategically and effectively.

Who can be a volunteer on a CERT?

Since CERT is intended to provide support in one’s own neighborhood, CERT training welcomes participants of all backgrounds and abilities. Anyone 18 or older can receive CERT training and join a local CERT. Teens between 13-17 can participate with written permission from their parent/guardian. Youths between 11 and 12 must obtain written permission from their parent/guardian and the parent or guardian must accompany them to CERT training and events.

How do I become part of a CERT?

The first step to becoming a CERT volunteer is to complete a CERT basic class. Then you can join a CERT team in your area. To find an active CERT near you go to CERT Locations The Washington Department of Emergency Management has a training calendar you can search for CERT classes in your area. All CERT classes are FREE!

Serve Washington supports CERT

While Serve Washington does not run the CERT program, they do work with local CERTs to ensure their programs meet credentialing and other state requirements for volunteers and disaster workers. Serve Washington provides support to organizations, groups, and individuals who wish to start a CERT program in their community as well as help connect interested volunteers to CERT programs in their area. Check out the new CERT section on the Serve Washington website for more details.

May is Asian Pacific Islander Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed during the month of May to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. There are many Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) groups in the South Puget Sound/Olympia area representing the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Chinese, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro (Guamanian), Filipino, Japanese, communities as well.

One local organization that does this is the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of South Puget Sound (APIC SPS)

According to Brian Lock Co-Chair of APIC SPS, he 1996 Welfare Reform Act significantly impacted and reduced noncitizens’ federal eligibility for public assistance programs. “Several Asian and Pacific Islander leaders and representatives of Asian and Pacific Islander organizations came together from all over the state to fight for equal access and eligibility for state public assistance, said Lock. “Since then, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Washington (APIC Washington) has been an advocate for issues providing equal access to public services like health care, immigrant and refugee assistance, food, and housing assistance, and in social justice issues relating to Anti-Asian hate and violence, equal opportunity in the workplace, gun control, voter equity, and civic engagement. Our local APIC SPS, is part of a broader network of APIC Washington chapters”. APIC Washington is a statewide network of community organizations dedicated to racial and economic justice for all Asians and Pacific Islanders in solidarity with Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. 

AANHPI Heritage Celebration

The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of South Puget Sound, in partnership with the City of Olympia, is hosting a celebration of Asian Pacific Islander American heritage and cultures on Saturday, May 20 at The Olympia Center. For more details go to

New Nonprofit Dances into Our Community

Last Friday a launch party for South Sound Dance Access (SSDA) was held at the Olympic Regional Learning Academy (ORLA). SSDA aims to foster a healthy and resilient community in the South Puget Sound region by ensuring access to dance, movement, and the performing arts for people of all ages, as a means of mental and physical health, creative expression, and community building. According to their Executive Director, Alice Grendon, SSDA aims to accomplish three things: bring dance to Thurston County schools; host community programs and other movement opportunities to the wider community; and offer scholarships for low-income students with an interest in studio training. “We really believe in the power of dance and movement. We recognize that there is a need for more creative outlets and more spaces and times — for kids in particular — to be able to get into their bodies and connect with their bodies and to move and express themselves physically,” said Grendon.

Soliciting your ideas

If you know of a nonprofit that is doing something great, celebrating a success, needs some outstanding volunteers, or hosting an event, let me know! This column (aside from a little education) celebrates nonprofits!

Mary Beth Harrington, CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator) lives in Tumwater. She travels the country speaking at conferences and to individual organizations articulating issues facing nonprofits. Send your ideas to her at


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