Avert Magazine

Locals helping locals: CERV’s mission in Middlesex County, Ont.

September 19, 2023
By David Gomez, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On May 9, Warden Cathy Burghardt-Jesson recognized over 20 devoted CERV members during Emergency Preparedness Week at the Middlesex County Administration Building. Photo: David Gomez, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

It is not very common to see large or terrible emergencies in Middlesex County, Ont. However, no county or township can be exempt from complex situations or emergencies. Global emergencies such as the COVID pandemic were an enormous challenge for Middlesex County, especially the mass vaccination program in rural communities. Or, the flood caused by a strong storm three weeks ago, which notably and mainly affected the municipalities of Adelaide Metcalfe and Southwest Middlesex, is an example of a real emergency that this county can face.

It is in response to these types of situations that 15 years ago, Middlesex County decided to implement a team dedicated to helping the population in times of emergency. This team is called CERV or Community Emergency Response Volunteers and they are not a simple group of volunteers, they are a beacon of resilience and community integration, trying to improve the safety and well-being of all the county residents.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Bettina Weber, the county’s Community Emergency Management Coordinator. Weber is not only in charge of leading and managing CERV, but she is also a professional with a lot of experience in the field. According to Weber, CERV is about locals helping locals. While they may train as rigorously as well-known entities such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, what sets them apart is their intimate and up-close knowledge of Middlesex County. They are familiar faces in times of distress, providing an inherent sense of trust and understanding in emergencies that can make all the difference.

One of CERV’s strengths lies in its adaptability. Volunteers understand that emergencies do not have a one-size-fits-all solution. From learning about the specific needs when working with First Nations people to understanding the complexities that happen during storms or wildfires, CERV ensures its team is equipped with the knowledge to handle diverse situations. It’s not just direct action either; the group works tirelessly on community awareness efforts. For example, its initiatives include a unique educational program targeting seventh grade students, which emphasizes the importance of emergency preparedness from an early age.


However, joining CERV requires a selection process that ensures that people are genuinely dedicated. Weber recalled her extensive experience in emergency management and highlights the importance of preparation. She pointed out the harsh reality: emergencies can sometimes attract people with bad intentions. This requires a meticulous review system, ensuring that volunteers are actually there to help.

On the other hand, CERV is activated when invited by a municipality. Their role is instrumental, especially in places like Middlesex County, where resources can be scarce compared to larger cities. They serve as a vital bridge, filling gaps where official staff might be lacking.

As the world faces an increase in unexpected events, from natural disasters to global pandemics, the role of community emergency response teams like CERV becomes increasingly important. Their dedication, adaptability, and pure love for their community make them unsung heroes, always ready to step in when disaster strikes.

The CERV team is a testament to the power of community solidarity and proactive preparedness. With ongoing training programs ranging from standard first aid to safe food handling, CERV’s extensive skill set is admirably diverse.

For those eager to join this great team and make a tangible difference to your community, the deadline for CERV applications is October 15. For more information or to submit the application form, contact Bettina Weber at bweber@middlesex.ca.

As challenges continue to arise, CERV remains ready and determined, ensuring that Middlesex County is always prepared and united in the face of adversity. In the words of Bettina Weber: “We are an emergency social service responder and all our work is about taking care of the people.”

David Gomez is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for The Middlesex Banner.

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