TRENTON, N.J.—For the first time, Mercer County graduated a CERT volunteer class comprised entirely of special needs residents today following eight weeks of training in a variety of aspects of disaster response.
CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Teams, is a volunteer-only program in which County residents are trained to give critical support to first responders in emergencies, provide immediate assistance to victims, organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site, and collect disaster intelligence to support first responder efforts.
The special needs class of nine graduates arose to fill a void in CERT membership from the disabled community.
“It’s amazing what people can do when they set their mind to it,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, who spoke to the graduates at the County’s Dempster Fire Training Center in Lawrence before he handed them personalized certificates. “We appreciate what you have accomplished and what you are bringing back to your communities.”
The graduates are: Gerald Carbone of Hightstown; Tamika Cheek of Robbinsville; Leonard T. Pope of Ewing; Norman Smith of Robbinsville; Scott Ellis of Hamilton; Kelly Rouba of Hamilton; Linda Barton of East Windsor; Bob Riskamm of Robbinsville; and Scott Elliott of Lambertville.
The graduates received CERT diplomas as well as CERT emergency preparedness satchels, hard hats, tools, and other items. Each was trained for approximately 18 hours in two- to four-hour sessions over two months.
County Freeholders Pat Colavita and Ann Cannon attended the graduation ceremony as well.
“We may one day have you to thank for saving our lives,” Cannon said.
Colavita added that the graduates have reached a personal milestone many of them might have thought was out of reach.
Training includes instruction in: basic first aid; family disaster preparedness; disaster fire suppression; medical operations; CERT operations; disaster psychology; basic emergency management; terrorism; light search and rescue; and disaster simulation.
The need for a class of disabled residents in CERT was identified by the Mercer County Office for the Disabled, which worked with the County’s Disabilities Advisory Council, the N.J. State Police, and the existing CERT organization to heighten disaster awareness and training in this community.
Some of the graduates live privately, such as Scott Ellis, Executive Director for Progressive Center for Independent Living (PCIL), while others live at different Project Freedom sites.
The CERT Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.
The County hopes the first special needs CERT class will educate others in the disabled community about how to prepare for an emergency, especially in facilities like Project Freedom, Hughes said. The County Executive added that volunteer support is crucial in any disaster, especially those that might cause professional responders and their resources to be stretched thin.
Mercer County currently has 300 CERT members across all 13 municipalities. Any County resident interested in becoming a CERT member can contact their municipal emergency management coordinator or the County Office of Emergency Management at (609) 799-8868 for information about signing up. Residents must be over 18 to participate.