NEW YORK — 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 12 federations Wednesday to discuss how they could offer community emergency response training, or CERT, to their employees and others in the Jewish community.
The federation trainee 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 2,500 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 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 20-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, ranging from a huge disaster — such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when CERT trainees set up an absorption center in Texas — to an accidental drowning at a JCC.
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. “It’s a smart way to build.”
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.
Some individual federations, such as the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, already offer the training and have established networks of citizens that respond in crisis. The Chicago federation’s program doesn’t fall under the auspices of the state’s Office of Homeland Security, as would those in New Jersey.
“It gives us a structure for how to respond when something happens,” Chicago federation spokesman Joel Schatz said. “It gives us protocol for knowing who to call and what to do.”
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.”