Volume 21, Number 35 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 9 - 15, 2009

chinese child

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Bao Hepeng, a member of the Chinese delegation of emergency management coordinators, had fun with 8-month-old Jack Velez, the son of Chris Velez, a member of Battery Park City’s emergency response team.

Chinese emergency officials meet with B.P.C. group

A delegation of emergency management coordinators from China met their Battery Park City counterparts Tuesday night. The delegation, comprising 19 officials from the provincial and municipal emergency preparedness offices of Jinlin Province, met with members of the BPC Community Emergency Response Team for several hours.

The Chinese delegation came to study the practices and programs of public safety and how CERT teams prepare for and deal with emergencies.

Anthony Notaro, chief of the BPC CERT, started the evening with a slide show, which proved prescient as none of the Chinese members spoke English. Notaro projected an image of the World Trade Center towers, one on fire and one having just collapsed. Pointing to a spot in the dust cloud that overwhelmed Downtown that day, Notaro, through a translator, told the group that the building they were in, the Regatta, was hidden beneath the dust cloud in the photo.

The group seemed moved from seeing the picture and from learning they were so close to where the attack occurred. They did not speak at the forum, even when asked if they had any questions.

Jinlin Province is located in the central part of Northeast China, adjacent to Russia and opposite North Korea. The province has a population of 28 million. China is facing more challenges to public safety after several disasters, including an earthquake in Sichuan Province last May that killed at least 69,000 people. It occurred just three months before the Summer Olympics.

“It is about neighbors helping neighbors,” Notaro told the group of CERT’s raison-d’etre.

Sidney Baumgarten, the BPC CERT Team Chief, gave a short history lesson of the federal response program.

“The problem was, on 9/11 there was no CERT team here. A few of us got together after 9/11 and decided to start a CERT here in Battery Park City,” Baumgarten explained.

The visitors learned the Downtown group was the first federally approved CERT in New York City and today, with over 300 trained members, may also be the largest in the country.

The Chinese delegation watched a PowerPoint presentation outlining key objectives of the program, including human rescue, animal rescue and marine rescue.

CERT members receive 27 hours of training over 9 weeks before they can be certified. Inside a disaster area they learn to turn off utilities, extinguish small fires, treat injuries and conduct search and rescue.

“We are not here to replace emergency responders,” Baumgarten explained, adding members are there to help until police and fire units arrive.

During the presentation, Notaro checked his P.D.A. and found an e-mail from the Office of Emergency Management. He told the visitors it was an update on weather conditions, demonstrating how government agencies have coordinated response and information services with local groups like the BPC CERT.

Baumgarten proudly noted the BPC CERT had received a commendation from President Bush for rescue and aid work performed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He added that the BPC CERT also aided in traffic control during the fatal Deutsch Bank fire and helped with evacuation efforts when a Downtown building suffered a flood.

— Jefferson Siegel




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