In the parking lot of Canarsies Holy Family Church, a fire was burning. One after the other, civilians stepped forward to extinguish the blaze, which was re-ignited repeatedly by the firefighters in attendance. In the meantime, inside Holy Familys school cafeteria, another group of civilians worked carefully to extricate a man who had been trapped in a building collapse, while yet another group carefully went over medical procedures that might be used to triage the victim of a disaster. The 28 people who took part in the various activities had been training, for the past 11 weeks, for this evening, which took the form of a disaster simulation meant to test the skills that they had acquired during 25 hours of lessons. The culmination of the evening occurred as, in the Holy Family cafeteria at 9719 Flatlands Avenue, each of the participants was handed a certificate of graduation, making them full members of the Community Board 18 area Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), trained second responders whose mission is to back up first responders, as needed and as requested, when the situation might require it, as well as to share their knowledge of emergency preparedness with other neighborhood residents. The new members of the CB 18 CERT make up the 31st such group now active in New York City. The first ones were formed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; subsequently, the citys Office of Emergency Management (OEM) began an outreach effort to assist in the formation of CERTs in every corner of the city. The CB 18 CERT is one of seven to have just been formed. The agencys intention, stressed Sharon Hawa, the community coordinator and CERT program manager for OEM, is to have a CERT established in each of the citys 59 community boards by the end of 2006. The goal of the program, she explained, is to train community-based volunteers to help supplement emergency services resources within a specific community. In terms of preparedness, said Hawa, CERT teams play a huge role because they are the ones who can identify vulnerabilities in specific communities, which might need special attention should some sort of disaster take place. According to Hawa, these include people with disabilities, non-English-speaking communities, seniors, and culturally-isolated communities. Hawa said that one of the first things that CERT team members are expected to do, after they graduate, is to, Understand the vulnerabilities within their communities, as well as to assess, specifically, The resources and skills within their team. The volunteer members of the CERT teams are trained in a wide range of areas including urban search and rescue, basic first aid and fire suppression. Their teachers are individuals who are highly skilled in the various techniques that the volunteers need to master, and hail from a variety of city and private agencies the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), as well as the American Red Cross and New York Cares. The existence of the CERT teams, said Seth Cummins, chief of staff of OEM, Extends our ability to have our partners in every community. Its part of the whole Ready New York program, to bring education and preparedness to every New York resident and every New York business. We are pretty prideful of what we do. I think that adding 31 teams in about two years is phenomenal. Why form CERTs? The reality, said Peter Morici of the Port Richmond, S.I., CERT, is that, in an emergency, There arent enough people to help. 9/11 proved it. If theres another event and the first responders go to it, that leaves communities alone. Thats what CERT is about. The name of the game is, everybody helps each other. Hurricane Katrina was a huge, huge reality check for all of us, agreed Hawa. Nonetheless, hard as each of the CERT members worked to learn the skills they demonstrated during the simulation, the fervent hope that was expressed during the evening was that they would never need them. I can only hope the tools youve learned, youll never have to use, Lt. Bill Reddan, of FDNY special operations, told the team. However, he pointed out, Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that every man and every woman in their lifetime is tapped on the shoulder at least once and asked to perform a specific task former to their talent. What a shame if that moment finds you unprepared. This is a labor of love, added Frank Seddio, the areas former assemblymember, who had helped get the necessary funding for the training, and who had stopped by to congratulate the graduates. If you put all the years together, we have 1,000 years of public service in this room. It is a great privilege to be part of this. There is nothing like doing for yourself and your family and your community. According to Hawa, OEM is starting another cycle of CERT training late in February. For further information. Log onto www.nyc.gov/oem. Once every community board has one team up and running, said Cummins, the next step will be to put together a second team in each.
©2006 Community News Group
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