University of Utah Health Launches Digital Credentials for Online Volunteer Emergency Response Training Program

University of Utah Health, the National CERT Association, and verified identity platform Merit today introduced digital credentials for U of U Health’s hybrid online/in-person Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program called OnlineCERT that aims to prepare the next generation of emergency response volunteers. The program is the first-of-its-kind to issue only digital credentials, allowing greater communication, real-time information sharing between state agencies and qualified volunteers, and more efficient crisis response.

Developed by the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Utah (RMCOEH), the Utah Division of Emergency Management, and 360Immersive, the hybrid online/in-person CERT course makes volunteer training easier by allowing participants to take the classroom coursework online and at any time — and receive their credentials in a portable, secure, and easily-verifiable format via the Merit platform.

Suu-Va Tai, State CERT Administrator for California and President of the National CERT Association said, “This is very exciting stuff. While CERT will always have a classroom and in-person training component, the OnlineCERT platform will help make CERT more accessible by allowing students to study portions of the curriculum at their own pace. OnlineCERT will also allow community members to benefit from much of the CERT training in areas where no CERT program currently exists. The National CERT Association is happy to see Merit continue to support the CERT program by lending its resources to this project.”

The hybrid CERT training program follows federal FEMA training standards and educates future volunteer responders on disaster preparedness and skills including fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. OnlineCERT has already been adopted across many states and regions over the past two years. Additionally, the program is now being included in a national pilot study, managed through the National CERT Association and FEMA National Offices, to assess its feasibility nationwide.

“Emergency responders and volunteers play a vital role in keeping our communities safe,” said Jacob Orrin, COO of Merit. “However, some of our systems for training, organizing, and deploying them are outdated and end up making it more difficult to serve. With a verified identity platform, we can modernize how we identify, coordinate, and empower people with critical skills — and in this case, help them better assist their communities in times of need.”

Sponsored by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, OnlineCERT sets an example for organizations across the country seeking to improve CERT training offerings. The addition of digital credentials further brings new efficiencies and promises improved participant retention and a better training experience.

“As we looked for opportunities to provide training in emergency preparedness and response, we quickly discovered the difficulties nearly every geographic region has in providing CERT training to its citizens,” said Matthew Hughes, M.D., the OnlineCERT program director. “CERT trainees are generally busy with work, family or other full time obligations and must figure out how to attend training classes that are usually held at night or on weekends for extended weeks at a time, or even travel very long distances to find training. The OnlineCERT tool remedies these difficulties allowing anyone with an interest to become more qualified to respond to or be more aware of emergency situations.”

The National CERT Association has successfully empowered citizens to effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies both in Utah and across the country. CERT volunteer Dan Fisher, who tragically lost his home in a wildfire last year, attested:

“CERT training brings communities together and teaches people critical skills to help themselves and others in an emergency. We need the next generation to get CERT trained. Online programs, like the University of Utah’s, will help bridge the gap and encourage more people to pursue training.”

The OnlineCERT platform is currently being updated to reflect the new 2020 CERT Basic Curriculum. To learn more about the program or to register for online CERT training through University of Utah Health, please visit http://onlinecert.org/.

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