By Donald WittkowskiFrom left, Ocean City Police Sgt. Brian Hopely, Upper Township Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Morgan, Ocean City Deputy Fire Chief Jim Smith and Ocean City Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Donato help train the CERT members.
More than 50 years later, memories of the colossal coastal storm that devoured beachfront communities along the Jersey Shore remain fresh in the mind of Ocean City resident Wanda Kline.
“It was really traumatic,” recalled the 70-year-old Kline, who was 16 when the epic nor’easter pummeled the island in 1962. “It really left an impression on me. It was bad.”
Kline said her late father, T. Richard Sweigart, served as the local commander of the New Jersey National Guard unit that helped with recovery efforts and prevented looting in the storm’s aftermath.
Now, Kline has become the latest member of her family who will lend a hand in Ocean City during storms and other natural or man-made calamities.
She was among 11 graduates last week who joined the ranks of the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, a cadre of local volunteers who assist police, firefighters and rescue personnel when disasters strike.
“I grew up in Ocean City. I care a lot about the community. I’m active and I like to do things like this,” Kline explained of her reasons for becoming a CERT member.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management website says the CERT concept dates to 1985, when the Los Angeles Fire Department realized that in the early stages of a disaster — particularly earthquakes — that professional emergency responders are often overwhelmed and need help from community volunteers trained to deal with catastrophes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency later recognized the importance of expanding the CERT program nationwide and crafted a training model.
CERT members supplement the first responders, provide aid to victims, organize volunteers at disaster sites and collect intelligence for emergency professionals.
Frank Donato, Ocean City’s chief financial officer who also serves as the town’s emergency management coordinator, said CERT members are particularly important for helping with evacuations during coastal storms.
“They’re instrumental in operating the evacuation shelters and coordinating the evacuations from the island, especially during hurricanes like Sandy and Irene.”
Scott Morgan, emergency management coordinator in Upper Township and a retired Ocean City police detective, said CERT members are part of the front lines of defense in city emergencies.
“They can provide assistance themselves until the professionals arrive,” Morgan said.
CERT members go through a 12-week training process, including instruction on emergency communications, storm evacuation, firefighting, assessing damage to buildings, taking care of pets during disasters and medical treatment. There is also a training component on how to respond to terrorism.
“They’re going to be well-trained for an emergency,” Morgan said.
Ocean City Deputy Fire Chief Jim Smith told the CERT graduates Tuesday it is inevitable that their services will be needed, given the island’s penchant for coastal storms.
“The fact that anything can happen, be cognizant of that,” Smith said.
Ocean City resident Christine Shea, one of the newly minted CERT members, said it was Hurricane Sandy’s wrath in 2012 that inspired her to join the program and help the community.
“I work well under pressure. I was a (casino) security supervisor in Atlantic City, so I have experience in different situations,” said Shea, who now works as a cashier at Ocean City’s Acme supermarket.
Ocean City has trained about 170 CERT members since the program began locally in 2005. Morgan said the members are a diverse group, including some retired law enforcement and fire officials, nurses and engineers.
A list of the graduates are as follows:
— Donna Corcoran, Ocean City
— Caitlin Quirk, Ocean City
— Paul Fleckser, Ocean City
— Linda Knobler-Geisner, Ocean City
— Brad Kelley, Ocean City
— Christine Shea, Ocean City
— Steven Paul, Ocean City
— Gayle Ballard, Ocean City
— Wanda Kline, Ocean City
— Loretta Bagnell, Upper Township
— John Pimpinelli, Somers Point