Courses Teach Building Staffs to Deal With Disaster

Marianne Schaefer in Building Operations on August 3, 2017

New York City

Disaster Class
Aug. 3, 2017

They started after 9/11, became essential during Hurricane Sandy, and are now sought-after by property managers, supers, and a growing number of co-op and condo board members. They’re Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes, which teach people how to deal with natural and man-made disasters, including storms, floods, fires, building collapses, and terrorist attacks.

The next class session begins Sept. 12. The classes are held in Manhattan and run from 6 PM to 9 PM, once a week for 15 weeks. The cost is $350 plus $30 for an optional gas mask. Successful graduates will receive certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including an ID card, at a cost of $10, that allows them to cross certain police lines. To register, send an email to Peter Morici at vipernypd@aol.com. Or call 718-490-2681. 

“We require all our supers to get trained and certified,” says Ellen Kornfeld, vice president of Lovett Realty. “By now about 90 percent have the CERT certificate. We were probably the first to do this. Already after 9/11 we got our supers involved in all kinds of emergency training.” Douglas Elliman, FirstService Residential, and Halstead Management are among the numerous management companies that participate in the program.

Peter Rufli, resident manager of the 65-unit co-op at 784 Park Avenue, graduated from the CERT course four years ago. He was already a certified Emergency Medical Technician, and he now teaches the medical portion of the CERT courses. “At this point it’s very important to me to get more people in the building to take the course,” Rufli says. “I intend to convince the board to get more people certified.” 

“We train mostly personnel in high-rise buildings,” says Hank Wisner, who has been teaching the CERT classes for the past 13 years. The classes are taught by different specialists and include intensive hands-on training. “You have a guy who works all day,” Wisner says. “For them, sitting around in the evening and listening to a lecture is not the way to go. You need those people to get active and have them do things. And they need to be fit and in excellent health.” The classes include realistic simulations of disasters, including smoke-filled rooms and extensive role-playing, as seen on this video.

In addition to the calamities listed above, the course teaches students how to deal with blackouts, shootings, biological and chemical attacks, crowd control, and the transfer of control of a scene from building staff to professional responders. Students learn to put on a gas mask in seven seconds while doing jumping jacks, and how to remove heavy objects and safely extricate a trapped person.

“I’m prepared for any kind of major disaster,” Rufli says. “But my knowledge is also of use in minor emergencies in my building.” For instance, after an elderly resident fell out of bed, Rufli was summoned. “The lady complained a lot,” he says. “She just wanted help to get back into bed. But after I did the head-to-toe assessment, I thought her femur was broken. And as it turned out, her femur was indeed broken, and could have severed the femoral artery. If somebody would have moved her, she could have bled out internally.” 

Rufli also acquired emergency equipment for the building, stocking everything from duct tape to several gas masks, extra flashlights, glow sticks, radios, and provisions.

Wisner believes that CERT certification is particularly crucial for resident managers. “We target them specifically because they control the largest number of people and can teach their staff and get them active,” he says. “And they know all the ins and outs of the building.”

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