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 Home > News & Policies > April 2002

Getting Started

Initial Meetings

Creating a Citizen Corps Council or asking an existing organizing group to expand their mission and take on this responsibility is an easy first step to making Citizen Corps an active part of your community. You may want to hold one or more brainstorming sessions, where council members can collectively identify goals for your community and develop a better understanding of the risks your community faces. Topics that the Citizen Corps Council might address can include:

  • Educating council members on the roles, responsibilities, and practices of the first responders, volunteer organizations, and any existing neighborhood organizational structure in the community;
  • Identifying the existing activities and resources within your community that support Citizen Corps principles;
  • Identifying volunteer groups and opportunities within your community that could assist in reducing risk or that could supplement resources in an emergency;
  • Creating a menu of volunteer opportunities in which community residents could easily participate or partnering with the local volunteer center, if you have one, to design volunteer recruitment strategies;
  • Assessing resources within your community that could be drawn on to support volunteerism and public education in your community;
  • Identifying possible resources to support Citizen Corps, including local private sector support and contributions from foundations and non-profit organizations;
  • Discussing opportunities to build public awareness and to educate the community about Citizen Corps opportunities within your community; and
  • Developing a wish list of additional resources that your community might need to support a comprehensive Citizen Corps effort.
Developing a Citizen Corps Action Plan

As you begin to assess your needs and resources, you should work toward developing a clear mission statement and an action plan. Your Citizen Corps Council action plan could include short and long-term goals, a community communication system for emergency warnings, and a community mobilization plan with a specific plan outlining how to meet these goals.

Short-term goals could include having working smoke alarms and emergency kits in every household by the time school starts again in the fall, having each business in the community practice their evacuation plans within a month, training all senior high school students in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or having Neighborhood Watch groups in all neighborhoods of the community. You may also want to target specific groups within your community, such as people living in high-risk areas, the youth population, and Americans with disabilities or disadvantaged populations.

It will be important for you to set meaningful, attainable goals, to make them public, to meet them, and then to recognize and celebrate your success.

Linking Local Activities with the National Effort

It will be important for you to link local activities to the national effort. Although you may have an existing organization take on this responsibility and not create a new Citizen Corps Council, it is critical that all activities at the local level that encompass citizen participation in emergency preparedness, response capability training, crime prevention, and skill-based volunteer programs related to community safety be identified with Citizen Corps.

A great way to get started is to have a public event to recognize the activities that volunteers, first responders, and residents in your community are already doing that relate to Citizen Corps. Explain that there is a new national initiative to link all these activities and to introduce other activities to promote personal and community safety. Make a commitment to help each resident in the community participate in Citizen Corps. Citizen participation can include:

  • Becoming better prepared and taking measures to reduce risk within their home, such as putting together a family emergency preparedness plan and kit, installing smoke detectors or elevating electrical appliances above flood stage, securing free standing shelving to a wall or strapping down a water heater;
  • Being a part of a Neighborhood Watch Program group;
  • Becoming a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical technician;
  • Volunteering their particular skills to help with community risk assessments; and
  • Volunteering with community organizations already active in disaster preparedness and response.

The goal is to include everyone in your community. One of your first steps to support Citizen Corps is to promote the initiative and to expand the range of opportunities available to the residents of your community. Other opportunities for Citizen Corps volunteers are listed in Appendix C.

There is no standard way to approach promoting your local efforts; each community is encouraged to be creative and to use the Citizen Corps message to promote participation. Your community may host community-wide Citizen Corps community preparedness days to challenge everyone in the community to put together a home emergency preparedness kit. Another may put the Citizen Corps logo on appropriate local websites. Another may use the local media outlets to promote local Citizen Corps activities and to educate the public. Another may focus on the school system to disseminate information. And some communities will do all of these and more.

Information Sharing

A critical part of making Citizen Corps a success is building a network of communities that are committed to engaging their citizens in making their neighborhoods safer, stronger, and better prepared for all situations. To facilitate this network, FEMA will provide a directory of Citizen Corps Councils. Through this directory you will be able to contact other Citizen Corps Councils throughout the nation and have a direct exchange of information with your counterparts. This directory will also enable your state and federal partners to contact you with updated information as the programs evolve nationally and to collect innovative local practices for national promotion.

As soon as you have designated a group to coordinate Citizen Corps in your community, please log on to and register your Citizen Corps Council contact information by clicking on the registration link. In providing this information to FEMA, you will be agreeing be part of a list that will only be shared with other community leaders working to create Citizen Corps in their community.

National Citizen Corps Programs in Your Community

The current five federal Citizen Corps programs will be implemented nationwide by August 2002.

Right now, every community can start Neighborhood Watch groups. Guidance on how to begin is available from your local sheriff’s department, your local police department, or from the National Sheriffs’ Association. (Visit the National Sheriffs’ Association at for more information.) A strong network of Neighborhood Watch groups can also serve as a delivery system for other Citizen Corps materials, such as emergency communications, Community Emergency Response Team training, or a family preparedness checklist.

The NCPC has created a family preparedness checklist in partnership with Citizen Corps that is available on the Citizen Corps website at or by calling NCPC at 1-800-WE-PREVENT (1-800-937-7383).

The Community Emergency Response Team training program is a 20-hour course, typically conducted over a seven-week period. Training sessions cover disaster preparedness, fire suppression, basic disaster medical services, light search and rescue, team organization, and a module on protection against terrorist threats.

The training also includes a disaster simulation in which participants practice skills that they learned throughout the course. Your local fire and emergency medical services departments (EMS) may have a key role in bringing CERT to your community. Many states already have experienced CERT trainers who could come to your community and provide training. Soon, every state will have this capability.

VIPS is scheduled for a nationwide launch in spring 2002 and the Medical Reserve Corps guidance will be launched nationwide in summer 2002. Operation TIPS will be up and running in ten pilot communities in late summer 2002, with a national rollout to follow.