At the end of summer and in early fall, New York City often weathers storms that can cause flooding and power outages. Winter will bring its own set of problems, including apartments that lack heat, and heavy snows and ice storms that can also cause power outages. Then there are the year-round unexpected problems, like water, gas or steam line breaks that can cause widespread havoc; building (or crane) collapses; explosions; subway problems; and disease-related issues such as swine flu and West Nile virus. Finally, there is fire. A fire starts in New York City every eight seconds, and doubles in size every 30 seconds—meaning that the tiny fire in your garbage can become a blazing inferno in three minutes.
While all of this may sound terribly unpleasant, it is simply to point out that September is National Preparedness Month, and your friendly neighborhood CERT would like to remind you that emergencies occur every day, that they can happen to anyone and that the time to prepare is not when an emergency is actually occurring, but beforehand.
CERT stands for “Community Emergency Response Team,” and there is one in every community board district in the city. CERTs comprise citizen volunteers who have taken an 11-week course in emergency preparedness and response given by the Office of Emergency Management. The training includes fire safety and suppression, disaster medical operations, psychological first aid, light search and rescue, traffic control, terrorism awareness and incident command structure. Many CERT members are also certified in CPR, First Aid and the use of the automated external defibrillator. We are also required to continue our training through ongoing city courses and disaster simulations.
A CERT’s mission is threefold: to provide outreach about emergency preparedness to the community through the city’s “Ready New York” literature and free presentations, to assist first responders (FDNY, NYPD, EMTs, etc.) in various ways during actual emergencies and, in rare instances, to serve as first responders when first responders are delayed. You may have seen us under our green canopy at local street fairs and community events, providing information on emergency preparedness.
The most important things you need to do to prepare for emergencies are: develop an emergency plan and a communications plan, and create a go-bag and a “shelter in place” carton.
An emergency plan includes planning evacuation routes and meeting places for separated family members. A communications plan includes connecting with family in an emergency, including an out-of-state number that separated family members can call to report their safety and location. A go-bag (one per family member) is what you take with you if you need to evacuate quickly, and includes items such as a flashlight, water, food (e.g., energy bars), a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit, medicines, an extra set of house/car keys, some cash and a waterproof bag with copies of critical documents (IDs, passports, leases, insurance policies, prescription/medical info, etc.). A “shelter in place” carton contains enough necessities to allow your family to remain in your home for up to 72 hours, including water, non-perishable ready-to-eat canned foods, a manual can opener, a whistle (to summon help if unable to speak), a phone that does not rely on electricity and all of the items listed for the go-bag above. Detailed information on all of the above is available at Office of Emergency Management’s website, www.nyc.gov/oem.
If you have not taken these steps, National Preparedness Month is the perfect time to start. Because the better prepared you are, the more secure you and your loved ones will be.
Ian Alterman is deputy team chief of the Upper West Side Community Emergency Response Team (UWS CERT).
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