Written by Alyson Westby Roach
Among a sea of red-clothed volunteers delivering comfort and clean-up kits at a bulk distribution site in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, one man alone stood out. Donning his uniform green vest, Devin Cohen, chief of the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), spent his day off chipping in with the Red Cross relief effort, now in its fourth week.
Shortly after Sandy made landfall on October 29, Cohen was on duty, managing a shelter for special-need victims. Almost three weeks later, he was still responding, this time in Red Hook – one of the hardest hit areas of Brooklyn – which is still experience power outages scattered across the brownstones, apartment buildings and local businesses.
“These days, it’s block to block,” Cohen said. “I was supposed to spend the day with my family, but we got an email asking us to send teams to help distribute food and supplies, so here I am.”
Since the response began weeks ago, the Red Cross – in partnership with several national and local organizations has handed out more than four million relief items, including cold weather kits and clean-up supplies. In New York alone last weekend, the Red Cross mobilized a large effort and distributed more than 1.4 million items to people in need.
In the days and weeks following a catastrophe, it’s not uncommon to see CERT teams working hand-over-hand with Red Cross volunteers. More than 1,100 communities across the United States have local CERT Teams, which are aimed to harness the power of every local citizen to intervene during emergencies and support first-responders.
Local CERT volunteers have been trained in all matters of urgent aid to help bolster communities’ safety, security and preparedness in the face of natural disasters of all kinds, among other emergencies.
Cohen said that while not every member of his CERT team is a professional disaster manager, the training is universal and easy to pick up. “My guys are pretty heady and well-educated. They understand the chain of command and how to supervise others.”