Ho-Ho-Kus Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Coordinator Jay Ludwig and Deputy OEM Coordinator, Police Chief Gregory Kallenberg in the Fall of 2004 attended an Ho-Ho-Kus Chamber of Commerce meeting and asked for volunteers for a new endeavor called CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Stanley A. Kober, a local resident and Vietnam Veteran, volunteered and in November 2004 attended the NJ State Police OEM’s “Train-The-Trainer” course, learned about CERT and became authorized to conduct certain basic courses. Under the guidance and direction of Ludwig and Kallenberg, Kober implemented the Borough of Ho-Ho-Kus CERT program as a subordinate unit of Ho-Ho-Kus OEM.
In January 2005, a town-wide presentation was made about CERT and the Borough’s CERT unit was born. Since then, Basic CERT classes have been conducted in the Borough and at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute (BCLPSI) in Mahwah. In addition, numerous in-service and advance classes (training above the standard classes provided in the Basic course) on electrical wire safety, hazardous materials, shelter operations/management, CPR, animal response team training, terrorism awareness, traffic control, gang awareness, and many others have been provided and conducted. Most recently, the Ho-Ho-Kus CERT members have had instruction provided not only by the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management, but by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department; Bernard Kerik (former NYPD Commissioner); NJ State Police; FEMA; and others.
The team now (2015) comprises 55 members, made up of six (6) Teams led by Team Leaders (TL). Members have assisted in evacuation drills, an active shooter incident, for emergencies like Superstorm Sandy and other storms and incidents, and numerous other events in Ho-Ho-Kus, the County, and other Municipalities as well as at the NJ State level.
Members have participated in CERT exercises at Picatinny Arsenal in Sussex County, CERT Day events at BCLPSI, decontamination drills at a local hospital, local emergency shelter operations, military funerals, County events at Overpeck Creek Park, and many other activities. Ho-Ho-Kus CERT hosted a joint two day exercise with Mahwah CERT which covered day time and night time operations, in which the CERT personnel from both teams applied their skills learned in many classes, to “on-the-ground” events in the woodland and marshland of the Ho-Ho-Kus “16 Acres” and East Park on the Saddle River. In addition, the joint operation was conducted using the nationally required Incident Command System (ICS) structure and comprised of numerous interagency operations with organizations such as the Ho-Ho-Kus OEM, Police and Fire Departments, and Ambulance Corps; Bergen County OEM; Mahwah OEM; and others.
A major enhancement to the Ho-Ho-Kus CERT mission came in 2013 when it implemented amateur radio capabilities at the Ho-Ho-Kus Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and for the CERT trailers and pickup truck. The unit also has an FCC approved license for an amateur radio club with the call sign W2HHK for wireless communications in accordance with FCC Title 47 CFR Part 97. The station also is a key player in R.A.C.E.S. (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service), a national civil defense communications service implemented in Bergen County as required by the NJ State R.A.C.E.S. Plan.
Recently, the Borough of Ho-Ho-Kus purchased a 28’x30’ enclosed storage building for CERT to provide an enclosure for the two CERT trailers and CERT pickup truck. The first CERT trailer (7’x14’) and pickup truck/tow vehicle were donated along with emergency equipment to Ho-Ho-Kus CERT in 2005 by Joseph M. Sanzari, a Borough resident. The second trailer (6’x12’) was awarded with thousands of dollars of emergency equipment, by the New Jersey State Police OEM in 2012 as a Mobile Command Post Utility Trailer, the first such unit for CERT in the State of New Jersey.
Since its inauguration, the Team has received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for every year through 2013. A potential award for 2014 is in progress and the status is unknown at this time.
Borough of Ho-Ho-Kus Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Organization
It is too cost prohibitive for response agencies to staff for major disasters or even for large emergencies. One way that response agencies seek to solve resource shortages is through mutual aid agreements and other cooperative efforts. But, in a disaster setting, mutual aid partners (police, fire, paramedics, EMTs, etc. from other towns) may be unable to provide support or there may be damage to transportation routes, communication links, or other critical infrastructure that prevents a rapid response.
Consequently, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program was established as part of the Citizens Corps by the Federal Government to “stand in the gap” until professional responders have the ability to respond. CERT is designed as a “neighbor helping neighbor” program. The original concept as established in Los Angeles, CA in 1985 was developed to give communities the opportunity to take care of themselves in the aftermath of a major disaster when the first responders (Police, Fire, Paramedics, EMTs, etc.) are overwhelmed or unable to respond because of transportation or communication difficulties.
CERTs have now proven to be a vital part of their community’s preparedness and response capability in such areas as a) assisting in evacuations and traffic control; b) supplemental staffing at special events such as parades; c) promote community awareness of potential hazards and preparedness measures; d) light search and rescue operations, etc. CERT is about readiness, people helping people, rescuer safety, and doing the greatest good for the greatest number. CERT is a positive and realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where citizens will be initially on their own and their actions can make a difference. Through training, citizens can manage utilities and put out small fires; treat the three killers by opening airways, controlling bleeding, and treating for shock; provide basic medical aid; search for and rescue victims safely; and organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective.
In short, CERT teams “stand in the gap” until the professional responders are able to effectively and efficiently respond. Our training will be conducted to meet the needs of all residents, because we believe that there is a place in CERT for everyone in our Borough. Fundamentally, everyone can benefit from disaster preparedness education and training.
The CERT program is one of several Federal programs such as the Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Service, The Medical Reserve Corps, Operation TIPS, and Citizen Corps Councils which receive their authority from the Citizen Corps. The Citizen Corps is designed to engage citizens in the Homeland Security effort. It is one of several other components such as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Peace Corps that are all under the umbrella of the Freedom Corps. The Freedom Corps is established to “…enhance opportunities for Americans to serve their neighbors and their nation.”
The Ho-Ho-Kus CERT organization is made up of volunteer residents who are trained to support and enhance the capabilities of the first responder professionals (police, fire, paramedics, EMTs, etc.) for all emergency situations, or when appropriate, non-emergency situations in the Borough.
The purpose of the Ho-Ho-Kus CERT organization is to improve the overall preparedness and response capability to any emergent, catastrophic, or non-emergent event occurring in the Borough and “stand in the gap” until the professional personnel are able to appropriately respond.
The Ho-Ho-Kus CERT organization is made of Borough residents who are not professional first responders such as police, fire, paramedic or EMT personnel. The CERT personnel are primarily called to duty within the Borough, but may on occasion be asked to assist the professional personnel in other communities in the County, State, Country or even in another nation.