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CERT Helps Residents Return To Building After Crane Accident — & A Couple More Citizen Preparedness Thoughts

June 5th, 2008 · 6 Comments

My CERT team was mobilized by the City’s Office of Emergency Management for the last two days to help tenants move back into the Upper East Side Manhattan building which was struck by a falling crane last Friday morning. Our team, the East Side Neighborhood Association (ESNA)-CERT, was joined by the Upper East Side CERT. We were activated because we are the two units closest to the scene of the accident.

We were initially called out Tuesday night as there was a chance that work would be completed to allow residents to move back. Because our team leaders could not make it, I was the designated CERT “point person” for the assignment, my first time with that responsibility. However, it turned out that the building did not get cleared for occupancy so there was not much to do other than greet and sign in tenants at the temporary reception center two blocks away.

CERT Crane Collapse

Crews work into the night on Monday to get building ready for residents.

At 9pm, OEM officials told tenants at the center that the work would probably be done sometime in the late evening or early morning, and they should check the agency’s website for news. At 5:30am Tuesday, the City announced on that the building was now open for reoccupancy (It is another example of how the web can be used to get emergency information out quickly and at all hours.)

So early the next morning, our CERT teams were mobilized once again to help the tenants move in. Throughout the day, we escorted residents from their temporary residences to the site, through the police barricades to their apartments and helped them with luggage. The ongoing repairs to the building along with the nearby construction work on the 2nd Avenue subway made the trip longer and a little more tricky than it normally would be. 

CERT Crane Collapse

ESNA-CERT team members waiting on 91st Street to escort tenants into the newly-opened building. (I’m the one with the oversized hard hat.)

In addition to accompanying residents back into the building, we also were tasked with calling tenants who had not returned yet to make sure they had heard the news about the reopening.

CERT Crane Collapse

ESNA-CERT Deputy Team Chief Dave Gillespie contacting a list of tenants to alert them they can return to their building.

As usual, there were a several things during this deployment that I found interesting and thought I would relay:

1) A couple of CERT colleagues I spoke to this week suggested that it might be a good idea for OEM and the Red Cross to take more advantage of these emergencies to push preparedness both among those directly impacted and the broader community. For example, would it make sense for officials to more prominently mention why it might have been helpful for some of the residents to have had a ‘go-bag’ (maybe with a mobile phone charger or extra battery).

Now, you don’t want to ‘blame the victim’ or further add to the trauma of those impacted by an accident by lecturing them about what they ’should have done’. However, the direct aftermath of emergencies are the best (and sometimes only) chance for ‘teaching moments’ when the authorities have the attention of the public and media. An argument can be made that not using that limited window to hit the preparedness message hard is a missed opportunity that you don’t get back months later when everyone no one is worrying about cranes (or any emergency) anymore.   

2) When we are on these types of CERT deployments during or after an emergency, I find that many of the people we come into contact have no idea what CERT is and why these people in green shirts are there helping out. When they find out, most are really surprised (and happy) to hear that there is a group of their fellow New Yorkers who are there to assist them at this difficult time. In fact, I think that sometimes the tangible help we give them is less important than the positive citizen-to-citizen feelings CERT engenders in the community and the model it can be for further involving citizens in their own preparedness and response to emergencies.  

3) By coincidence, when our CERT team first assembled at a local elementary school yesterday morning there was a fire education program going on for the students. Several firemen were teaching safety to the kids who all had red plastic fire hats on. It is my belief that preparedness will only take hold societally if we can get it into the schools. The difficulty is adding yet another responsibility and subject to the already crowded school schedule. One way would be to add some emergency preparedness onto that traditional fire curriculum that is now being taught nationwide. 

4) Many of the displaced tenants checked into a Marriott Hotel around the corner after the accident and stayed there until returning to their apartments today. To its credit, Marriott continued to only chargethem the lower weekend rate for Monday and Tuesday as well.  A small community good deed, but one appreciated by their neighbors this week.

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Tags: CERT

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ordering DHS, FEMA, TSA ‘A La Carte’ — Some New Email Lists That Are Worth Signing Up For // Jun 6, 2008 at 4:37 am

    [...] ← CERT Helps Residents Return To Building After Crane Accident — & A Couple More Citizen Pr… [...]

  • 2 Harry R. Burger // Jun 6, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Rather than rely on CERT members to properly and tactfully educate people 1 on 1 at the scene of the problem (and that people retain that information in memory), how about you put together pamphlets (I know FEMA and the Red Cross publish a bunch) and after you help someone, you leave them one of these and just explain that it contains advice on how to prepare for future emergencies. If they want to know more, there are always URLs on them these days. Usually there is also room for you to put your organization’s sticker on the back, if you want them to be able to find your CERT representative.

  • 3 admin // Jun 6, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Fair point, Harry. I think it should come from OEM or the Red Cross. But we can hand out pamphlets as you suggest. Ironically, one of my fellow CERTs made that exact suggestion last week. We need to carry some of that info in our CERT bags.

  • 4 “Cross Blog” — The Oregon Red Cross’ Innovative Online Presence // Jun 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

    [...] someone who works regularly with the Red Cross here in New York City as part of my CERT responsibil…, it is terrific to see the organization — both nationally and in local chapters like [...]

  • 5 Bigger Than Expected Crowd At Local Preparedness Event Underscores Public’s Interest, Their Good Questions & Ideas, And The Lure Of Free ‘Go-Bags’ // Sep 9, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    [...] of kits. (This neighborhood is also particularly sensitive to emergency preparedness issues since there have been two fatal construction crane collapses within the [...]

  • 6 First Anniversary Of Fatal Manhattan Apartment Crane Accident // Mar 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    [...] Though our role was an ancillary one — mostly helping to lighten the load on the uniformed responders and the Red Cross — neighborhood residents were thankful to have our assistance and happy to see their fellow New Yorkers pitching in. Little did we expect that there would be another major crane collapse just a few weeks later only 40 blocks north. [...]

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