UPPER WEST SIDE — An all-volunteer emergency and disaster response team based on the Upper West Side has been selected by the Office of Emergency Management to play a leadership role in one of Manhattan's most critical shelters.
The Upper West Side Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) has been selected to be the lead volunteer team at the Medical and Special Needs Shelter planned for John Jay College, said Shelly Fine, a resident and the team's leader.
"Based on our running of shelters during Irene and Superstorm Sandy, [OEM has] chosen us to be the point team for the Manhattan special needs shelter in case of a coastal storm," Fine said.
"The Upper West Side team was very helpful in managing the shelter operations in both [Irene and Sandy]," said Nancy Silvestri, deputy press secretary for OEM.
The neighborhood team has roughly two dozen active members, who've gone through 10 weeks of training on how to respond to and prepare for emergencies.
The training, provided by OEM, which oversees the city's local CERTs, covers "response skills, search and rescue, disaster medical operations, and traffic and safety control," among other things, said Silvestri.
After that there's more intensive training for leading medical shelters for people whose needs can't be met by regular shelters, but don't need emergency care, she said.
"We’re not the first responders, but sometimes we have to be the first responders," Fine said.
During Hurricane Sandy, UWS CERT had 374 volunteers turn out to help with running local shelters and getting food and clothing donations from the neighborhood to other parts of the city.
With the new responsibility of serving as the lead volunteer team at the John Jay College shelter, which was set up on the second floor of the school's North Hall during Sandy, Fine said the team is looking for people with specialized skills.
"We want special skills now — experience with mental health, medical and social work," he said.
Part of the UWS CERT's mission is also to educate residents at community fairs and through presentations to groups and schools.
"If people are aware and are prepared then they have much less to be afraid of," Fine said.
The team has been growing steadily since its founding in 2007; each year around a half a dozen people join, he said.
"We’re poised to do what we have to do in a much better way," he said, especially after the experience of Sandy.
Volunteers can connect with the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.