By LIZ BUTTON
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the city administration and residents realized it would be considerably valuable to incorporate an element of community involvement into the existing emergency preparedness plan.
As the city recovered from the storm, a group of a dozen residents came together to create a Community Emergency Response Team to coordinate and implement a citizen preparedness plan that supplements the municipal emergency plan.
CERT is a national program recognized by FEMA that delivers emergency training for community groups. The concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985.
Former Democratic Rye City mayor and Judge John Carey helped incorporate the initiative to bring CERT to Rye after learning about the existence of the program in New Canaan, Conn., where his daughter lives.
“It has been very effective there,” he said.
Carey recently turned over the group’s reins to Matt Fahey—a former Republican councilman who left office in 2007—but will continue to offer legal advice to the group.
Fahey, who went through the CERT training program himself, said Rye residents need to be better informed prior to an emergency so they can take appropriate action as needed.
The city has learned much from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and then Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Fahey said.
During Sandy, the city’s communications structure that the police had in place totally fell apart and Con Edison had trouble reaching every part of the city, so many areas were completely overwhelmed, Fahey said.
“At that point, I realized there’s a lot that can go wrong in a storm: power outages, manmade disasters, flooding,” Fahey said. “The key to success in any effort like this is to get organized and to have an organizational system set up before the event occurs.”
After about six months of studying different options for community programs, Fahey said the group decided to go the CERT route and he took it upon himself to go through the training program in Stamford, Conn. At the 20-hour program, Fahey was trained by paramedics, FBI agents, clinical psychologists and police and fire professionals. The seven modules of training are usually delivered in two-and-a-half hour sessions once a week over a seven-week period and teach search and rescue, first aid, disaster preparedness and disaster medical operations such as learning how to triage in a multiple casualty situation before first responders arrive.
In the timeline of a disaster, the period before the first responders make it to the scene of an emergency can be the most crucial, Fahey said.
“It pays to have forewarning of what you might expect to see, what you can do to help,” Fahey said. Through the proper training, he said, anyone can learn how to manage an emergency situation until the professionals get there.
Former Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, was a key initial supporter of the citizen group. The group, which started meeting last September, has met with City Manager Scott Pickup and hopes to get more people involved in the program.
The group will reach out to local community groups like the Rye Knights of Columbus, church groups and the Rye Lions Club to get people interested in taking the training class. Fahey said he would like get enough people involved to establish a system of neighborhood captains who would monitor their own area during a disaster.
Other members of the founding group include former Democratic Party chairman Maurio Sax, former Councilwoman Beth Griffin Matthews and Joe Murphy, who heads Rye’s senior advocacy committee.
The founders are interested not just in beginning CERT training and establishing neighborhood units, but in encouraging anything Rye does to promote emergency preparedness.
Murphy said his role in the group is important as seniors sometimes, unfortunately, do not get the kind of attention they need and this matters more and more as Rye is getting to be an older community.
“When the storms come as we had with Sandy, lots of older people were not only inconvenienced; they were cold, they were not ready,” Murphy said. “We have a long way to go. The city needs to develop a plan, and right now we have volunteers who are willing to do some things to help. We’re committed to making it work. I believe the new City Council will open it up to discussion.”
Currently, the CERT group has gotten the city to look into launching the Smart911 program, a service sponsored by Westchester County that allows citizens to create free online safety profiles that include photographs and health and rescue information, which would come up on call center screens when citizens dials 911.
The founding CERT team was also an advocate of the new CodeRED multi-platform emergency notification system, which the city is in the middle of transitioning to from its Nixle police notification email system. The group is also looking into getting the city to create a map of the most vulnerable residents so public safety officials can visually identify who needs to be checked on first in