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How Irene Led us to Become CERT Volunteers

Along with her husband Jim, Karen Bonacorda led surge of volunteers for emergency response group.

Karen and Jim Bonacorda's Marion Ave. home was flooded during Hurricane Irene. No strangers to volunteering in Springfield, the couple spearheaded an effort to get their neighbors to join the . Springfield Patch asked Karen about her motivation for going door-to-door and getting people involved. Here is her response.

It was the flood, actually, that motivated us. Because Jim had previously been a a volunteer with the Auxiliary Police, we were both very aware of how stressed our emergency response system can be.  

During Hurricane Floyd, Jim spent the whole night on duty manning a road block on Meisel Avenue. The biggest problem I saw at that time was the lack of communication with residents.  This was before cell phones were common, and when the Auxiliary Police went around to restaurants to advise them of water restrictions, I went door-to-door passing that information on to my neighbors.  I inquired to the Township Committee about organizing residents to help when disasters occur, but at that time there was no vehicle to allow it to happen.  

So during Hurricane Irene, when we heard that flooding had occurred in two places downstream, Jim and I understood the difficult position the professional responders were in.  There was no one to help us on Marion Avenue because they were rescuing people elsewhere and couldn't arrive here until later.  My neighbors had been monitoring the river all night, and when the flooding began on Marion Avenue, they helped each other evacuate, some with cars, and Frank Applegate with his boat.  

I knew the motivation to help was there.  What was missing was the knowledge of how to maintain personal safety during an emergency and also a way to communicate with the professional responders.

One day, while exploring FEMA's Website, I noticed a section devoted to the Community Emergency Response Team.  I thought this might be a good program for Springfield.  I had never heard of CERT, so I thought our town didn't have a team.  I inquired at the Union County Office of Emergency Management, where I spoke to Ron Salerno, who referred me to John Cottage here in Springfield.  John told me we did, indeed, have a small CERT team and that I could join.  I thought other people who were flooded might be interested in joining the team, so he got me permission to canvas those areas.  He told me if I could get a dozen people to sign up, he could bring an instructor to Springfield to teach the training program.

I covered a good part of the areas affected by Irene and also went to a meeting of Water Everywhere with a bunch of applications.  Just about everyone at the meeting applied, and I was able to get a few more people from the neighborhood.   The FEMA site said volunteers could choose to take the training to help their families, or help their neighbors, or help their town.  I stressed that option.  

The core members of Water Everywhere are intensely motivated to helping make Springfield a better place to live, and this made them ideal for CERT.  John Cottage was very happy with the response, and he got us into a training program in Clark that was starting right away.  

The course was fabulous.  It covered a variety of disasters, all much more serious than our floods had been. However, a lot of the information we received is really vital to every household.  We learned how to assemble a first aid kit, how to set up a shelter in your house, how to use a fire extinguisher, how to identify life-threatening injuries, how to turn off the gas.  The course is free, and I would encourage everyone to take the training.  There is even a training program for children.

Geoff Moller June 01, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Great story about moving forward and organising things better for future needs! Geoff gmpropac@gmail.com

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