BY LISA SPENGLER
How can Ocean City and Upper Township’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) maintain certifications and keep pace with advancements in first aid and emergency response when the professional and personal schedules of team members vary significantly?
Comprised of homemakers, nurses, retirees, police officers, firefighters, salesmen, former military, students, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, CERT members are trained and poised to help during natural or manmade disasters.
Coordinating classroom time for continuing education through workshops and training courses can be difficult.
Ocean City Fire and Rescue Services Chief James Smith knew there needed to be options and flexibility with courses that would maintain the high standards and certifications of CERT members for medical and emergency response.
“This new hybrid level of classroom has evolved with societal demands. This works for everyone and our busy schedules. This technology is offered by the CPR associations and we have the good fortune to be able to offer it to our community,” said Smith.
Working with course managers and instructors, Township Administrator and Emergency Management Director of Upper Township Scott Morgan, who began the CERT program in 2005, Frank Donato, Ocean City’s chief financial officer, and Ocean City Emergency Management Coordinator since 2007, and Ocean City Police Department Lt. Brian Hopely, Chief Smith offered a new format for the CERT CPR/AED refresher.
“With technology, we are now able to allow CERT members to take classwork online for those whose CPR and AED cards may have expired or would be expiring, in a way that would accommodate their schedule,” said Smith. “Skills would then be evaluated in person by our public safety personnel.”
Members were given six weeks to complete the online classwork.
Upon successful completion of the classwork and skills evaluation, members were awarded a two-year certification card or certification for renewal.
Patti Farrell, a CERT member, was a former Red Cross First Aid/CPR instructor.
“I thought the CPR/AED class was just perfect for those of us renewing our certifications,” said Farrell. “Since recommendations have changed over the years, it was very useful in keeping me up-to-date on the current accepted practices.”
“The online information was a very good review and our instructor for the hands-on evaluation at the fire department, paramedic Carl Brown was extremely knowledgeable and helpful,” Farrell continued.
The program training includes all aspects of disaster preparation, including shelter management, First Aid, Heart Saver (CPR/AED), fire safety and light search and rescue, disaster psychology, terrorism, animals in disasters, nursing home evacuation, and traffic control/special events.
All of these areas have seen changes in protocols and procedures as a result of scientific and technological advances and innovations.
“One of the primary goals of an emergency manager is to educate and prepare the residents of your community to survive any manmade or natural disaster before, during or after the event,” said Morgan.
“Since the start of our CERT program back in 2005, we continue to modify and enhance our CERT preparedness curriculum, so we can attract the most diversified cross section of both of our community’s citizenry,” he continued. “The training modules may be basic, but the information shared through the CERT training process by our Emergency Response, National Weather Service, Utility Services, Animal Preparedness and many other Emergency Management Professionals is invaluable.”
Over the past year, CERT members were offered to take part in shelter operations training hosted by Cape May County Emergency Management, in conjunction with the American Red Cross.
The course was designed to train CERT members on the most current procedures for preparation and opening of shelter operations when deployed during an emergency.
Another sheltering workshop, sponsored by the State Department of Human Services, Cape May County Office of Emergency Management and the Volunteer Center of South Jersey, was offered to CERT members on June 11 with the primary focus on mass care and sheltering of evacuees.
“The CERT program provides a level of education that has a shared value between the CERT students, their family and friends of the community,” Morgan said. “We continue to grow the CERT joint training relationship between our two communities who officially combined our team efforts in 2014. This relationship is ever-improving and provides a very strong emergency management focus toward mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery for the residents of both municipalities.”
Residents of Ocean City and Upper Township are the reason individuals volunteer to be on CERT.
The volunteers realize that their service goes beyond skills and procedures. It is about extending compassion and strength to others during the most trying and difficult of times.
CERT members volunteer their time to assist others even when they may have to leave their homes that are affected by the same disastrous event.
Throughout the year, Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator and Police Lieutenant Brian Hopely coordinates CERT functions at special events, including crowd control which complements the police force.
The busiest time of year for special events in Ocean City is the month of September. The number of events, coupled with the loss of most of the seasonal officers, make CERT’s role in traffic/crowd control vital to residents and visitors.
“Whether it is a parade, event or potential weather event, I couldn’t be prouder of our CERT from Ocean City and Upper Township, who continue to give their time and use their training and talents to make each event safe for all who are in attendance. CERT members freely volunteer to help our community and ask for nothing in return,” said Hopely. “They all deserve our most sincere thanks for all they continue to do.”
CERT members will be assisting the City of Ocean City Community Services Department at the Street Rod event on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Their assignment will involve crowd control and reminding the public to stay back from the street rods as they are staged between Fifth Street and 14th Street on the Boardwalk.
You could also see CERT members who will be in green vests and green hats, at the upcoming Parachute Pyrotechnic Jump and Air Show event on Saturday, Sept. 14 and Sunday, Sept. 15.
They will be positioned on the beach and Boardwalk to prevent onlookers from going down to beach and accessing the drop zone and other secured areas.
“Other upcoming events you will see CERT assisting are the MS Bike Ride on September 21 and the Ocean City Half Marathon on September 28,” said Hopely.
“Being well-trained and prepared for any situation, including crowd control and emergency situations is part of our fundamental mission,” said George Westermann, Upper Township Fire Police Officer with Seaville Fire & Rescue and CERT member since 2017.
With hurricane and nor’easter season upon us there is no better time to learn about CERT. The program, the people and the mission, do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
CERT is always on standby to help their communities.
This dedicated group of volunteers are well trained, but more importantly, they love their communities and are filled with an overwhelming desire to help their neighbors and friends through a traumatic event or by assisting with their safety at a parade or special event.
“We invite all newcomers to our CERT training program to come out and try it. Our goal is not to turn you into a police officer, firefighter or EMS professional, but rather to provide you with the planning and preparedness basics that you will need to make the best decisions, when the next manmade or natural disaster impacts our region,” Morgan said.
If you are interested in becoming a CERT member, more information can be found at: www.ocnj.us/oem.
(Lisa Spengler is a CERT member for Atlantic County and Cape May County (Ocean City/Upper Township).