Words by Susan Thorson
Graphic by Aspasia Celia Tsampas
September 19, 2019
When Ramona Pounce watched Hurricane Katrina devastate New Orleans in 2005, she immediately thought of her Harlem community. She said, “That could happen to us tomorrow.” So she learned about a new initiative called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and joined the first crew to serve in Harlem. Fourteen years later she still works hard to help her neighbors prepare.
Ms. Pounce serves as CERT’s Manhattan Borough Coordinator and volunteered at the seventh annual Harlem Emergency Preparedness Day held at the City College of New York in Harlem in honor of National Preparedness Month.
Every year CERT helps thousands of New Yorkers prepare for emergencies through training, parades, festival information booths and radio broadcasts. CERT volunteers assist first responders with the Five-Borough Bike Tour and the NYC Marathon. They clear snow around fire hydrants for easy access and remove debris from storm drains to prevent flooding. They always need new volunteers.
A different storm propelled Stuart Reid into action. When Hurricane Sandy hit NYC in 2012, Mr. Reid discovered a gap in Harlem’s communication. He said, “Often we don’t hear information about what’s going on in our community. We might hear about downtown or Staten Island, but what about right here in Harlem? And so we put together the Harlem Emergency Broadcast Team [Mr. Reid is the director] at WHCR radio to gather information from the field so we can put it out to the community.” WHCR 90.3FM broadcasts from City College and provides ongoing preparedness messaging. The radio station’s emergency response team sponsored the preparedness event.
Representatives from the Red Cross, FDNY, FEMA, Harlem Hospital and Harlem Information Network informed and prepared students and Harlem locals. Christina Farrell with NYC Emergency Management likes this campus event because college students are often new to NYC and unprepared for emergencies. But her organization’s reach is far greater than City College. They offer 900 presentations a year, “wherever people congregate and are interested.” They help people help themselves. One way people can do that is to sign up for NotifyNYC—a free emergency-notification system that provides zip-code specific information through their app, Twitter, smartphones, landlines or email. Ms. Farrell stressed, “It only takes a few minutes to learn how to take a couple of steps. We just want people to be prepared.”