Neighborhood CERT – How to Recruit


It ain’t easy!

Our local CERT group is having another recruiting drive. It’s an ongoing effort, of course, since people come and go in the neighborhood.

This month we are having a real “recruiting meeting.” Here are some ideas that seem to work to get people there and give them a valuable experience.

Timing – Plan around a disaster.

Frankly, a newsworthy disaster can improve attendance at your meeting. Here in California we say, “Just give me a 3.7 earthquake and we’ll find some more CERT members.”

Even when you have to plan in advance, you will be able to find some recent disasters to feature as part of your recruiting material. (The United States Geological Survey maintains As I write this, it lists 198 earthquakes as having happened over the past seven days!)

Invite an “expert” speaker.

Yes, having trained and knowledgeable neighbors is appealing. But sometimes a recognized “expert” can be a better draw. We have had good success inviting the local Police Chief, Fire Chief, and particularly people who have actually participated in disaster recovery (in New Orleans, Fukushima, Christchurch) to be the featured speaker for the evening.

Give attendees materials to interact with: maps, photos, radios.

Maps, photos, radios — all good recruiting tools.

Give attendees something to do.

Emergency response is all about – response! It’s about being ready to take action, and not hesitating. We find that our meetings are more interesting and more successful if we have an activity that all people in the room can take part in, whether or not they are familiar with CERT. For example:

  • Survey the crowd for their ideas of the threats the neighborhood is facing. Record those threats on an easel in the front of the room.
  • Pass out maps of the neighborhood (or use an overhead projection). Have people identify where they live and work in relation to high-threat areas like a chemical plant, a railroad track, flood zone, or a high-pressure gas line.
  • Have extra emergency radios available for people to hold and try out. Your team members can share with visitors. Go through a drill to replace the batteries, change channels, etc. It will result in pandemonium if not well managed, but people always enjoy it!
  • Provide people with resources to take home: a sticker with emergency numbers, an abbreviated emergency supplies list, notice of an upcoming training.
  • A raffle is fun if you can organize it.
  • And, of course, refreshments are always appreciated. Set them up on a side table and give people a chance to mingle.

Invite people at least twice.

People need to be exposed to your marketing message more than once. (You’ve heard the classic “seven times before people buy” story.) We find that an invitation flyer (sent via email or actually printed and delivered to the doorstep) followed by a shorter reminder just the day before works pretty well. Best is if a neighbor actually says, “Let’s go together. I’ll pick you up.”

What’s the Call to Action?

At the end of the meeting, attendees need to be directed to “take the next step.” There is no fixed rule about what that next step should be; that will depend on your individual group. But a call to action is essential. Without it, you have just wasted your recruiting opportunity!

Joe and I have developed, and continue to develop, tools to make all these recruiting tasks easier and more efficient.  Best way to get them is to subscribe to our Advisories.

Virginia Nicols

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