New Jersey may become the first state to use its Jewish federation system to train citizens as emergency first responders.
State police and homeland security officials met with representatives from each of New Jersey’s 1′ federations last Wednesday, at state police headquarters in West Trenton, to discuss how they could offer community emergency response training, or CERT, to their employees and others in the Jewish community.
The federation programs, and those who pass through them, would join a network of trained citizen emergency first responders run out of the federal Department of Homeland Security, which has some ‘,500 training programs nationwide.
"The more people that we can train and organize to assist in a disaster or emergency, the better it would be for everyone in terms of homeland security," said Capt. Howard Butt, New Jersey’s Citizen Corps coordinator, who attended last Wednesday’s meeting.
Other faith-based programs and communities in New Jersey offer the training, and the Jewish community is a natural to do so because "they’re a community that is always concerned, and unfortunately is the target of terrorist activity," Butt said.
The New Jersey training would be offered for free through county offices of emergency management, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the organization that facilitated the meeting. The group operates a communication network that keep tabs on the security of the Jewish community and helps Jewish organizations with security matters.
Goldenberg, who has been talking with representatives from the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella about getting the training into all of UJC’s 155 federations, said the Jewish community needs to be prepared to respond to emergencies in the post-9/11 world, especially after a shooting this summer at the federation in Seattle.
The ‘0-hour emergency first responder curriculum has eight components, including personal preparedness for disaster, medical intervention, search-and-rescue training, spotting potential terrorist attacks and dealing with them if they occur, said Rachel Jacky, national CERT program director.
The citizen’s brigade of trained responders is meant to assist professional emergency workers during times of crisis, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when CERT trainees set up an absorption center in Texas.
Goldenberg’s group hopes a partnership uniting New Jersey’s Homeland Security office, the state’s Citizen Corps and federations becomes a model for every state to follow with Jewish and other faith groups. "We think it’s a great idea to promote" citizen emergency responders "through any community network, faith group or pre-existing network that already has credibility," Jacky said. According to Goldenberg, the terrorism component of the training would be expanded for federations. "It would teach receptionists how to spot suicide bombers, or training in how to recognize suspicious persons or countersurveillance," he said. "Unless people in the community know what to look for, they won’t contact the police."
Goldenberg’s organization also has been working with New Jersey State Police to provide the federations with emergency-response equipment and to designate a group of rabbis as "emergency clergy responders," allowing them to enter crisis scenes that civilians cannot.
Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the Oct. 4 presentation "phenomenal."
"The concept was excellent, and it was much needed," she said. "The state police have done a great job in putting the CERT program together."
Kurland applauded the idea of preparing community groups to take a more active role in preparing for emergencies and agreed that federations are an ideal venue for facilitating training sessions, given their outreach capability and experience in enlisting volunteers. She noted that while the JCRC has long been involved in sensitizing UJA’s beneficiary agencies to the need to assess their own preparedness, the proposed venture "would allow us to convene a training course, free of charge, for all our beneficiary agencies, preparing [people] to be part of an emergency response team." And, she said, "the more people who become trained, the more this will enhance homeland security."
Kurland plans to sit down soon with the executive leadership of UJA-NNJ to discuss an implementation strategy and is hopeful that the group will have a timetable worked out by January. At that point, she said, the group will approach the police for what may turn out to be a series of training sessions, depending on community response.
The meeting in New Jersey was just a precursor to actually implementing the statewide training, but those attending the meeting think it will happen.
"There is tremendous interest in moving ahead with this. I think we will come back and we will promote this idea," said Joel Kael, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. "We operate a preschool, have senior adult programs and everything in between. People expect us to take the proper precautions to maximize security, and anything that would give us this advance training would be beneficial."
Lois Goldrich of The Jewish Standard contributed to this report. JTA