The increasing magnitude of hurricane damage in the southern United States in recent years, capped off by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, highlights the reality that local people and communities are often the first responders to crisis or disaster. Driven by policy and necessity, rural communities find themselves taking on more responsibility in preparing for and resolving local crises and emergencies. Locally-based Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are teams of local volunteers, trained to aid in disaster preparation, provide first aid, and contribute other assistance during emergency situations. Focusing on the southern United States, this article explores the rural/urban distribution of disaster declarations, CERT establishments, and the implications of CERTs for their planned mission of disaster response and also the possibility that they can do more. The CERT framework presents a unique structure that can be enhanced to contribute to community development, natural resource management, risk mitigation, and other local conditions. We suggest expanding the mission of CERTs to broadly represent local populations, engage in long-term community development, and serve as a bridge or liaison between citizens and government agencies to improve community and environmental decision making.

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