QU students to form emergency volunteer team on campus

Cat Murphy and Lily Philipczak

Quinnipiac University is forming a campus chapter of a Community Emergency Response Team this semester to provide students with basic disaster response skills and the campus with an additional level of student volunteers in the event of an emergency.

CERT is a nationwide initiative sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to educate community members in emergency preparedness and train civilian volunteers to assist first responders in emergency scenarios.

Although CERT programs are not exclusive to universities, there are “dozens” of CERT teams located on U.S. college campuses as of July 2022, according to FEMA. Collegiate chapters are designed specifically to “enhance existing capabilities,” per the FEMA website.

Jennifer Sacco, chair of the department of philosophy and political science and the Quinnipiac CERT faculty adviser, and Ari Hyman, a senior political science major, received funding through the Quinnipiac Public Service Projects Fund to develop a CERT program on campus.

The comprehensive CERT curriculum will train students, regardless of major or prior experience, to administer basic first aid, establish security perimeters and distribute food and medical supplies during emergency situations, such as natural disasters. However, the unpaid volunteer program will also prepare students to assist the Department of Public Safety during non-emergency situations, including graduation and move-in.

“As QU EMS supports with medical emergencies, CERT would complement their efforts with mostly non-medical logistical support,” Sacco wrote in a statement to the Chronicle on Jan. 27.

Hyman, who helped found the initiative, said she believes it is important for students to have a voice in emergency scenarios.

“Faculty can be intimidating,” Hyman said. “A student might actually be more knowledgeable about different routes to take, or maybe bring a fresh and creative perspective on the situation.”

Sacco also wrote that she wanted the CERT team to have the opportunity to work with local officials to “provide volunteer support to town affairs,” including food, toy and clothing drives. Hyman added that she hoped local CERT involvement would help “strengthen the relationship between the town of Hamden and Quinnipiac.”

Illustration by Amanda Riha

Members of the Quinnipiac CERT branch will receive 20 hours of formal community assistance training over an eight-week period during the spring 2023 semester, according to an informational flier distributed at a preliminary interest meeting in December. CERT training sessions will be held every Tuesday night beginning on Feb. 21.

Students who complete the training will receive a disaster response backpack from FEMA with several emergency preparedness tools, including a first-aid kit, a flashlight and a reflective vest.

Trained CERT members are eligible to become a member of a volunteer on-call CERT unit. Hyman said that the on-call team may be deployed alongside Public Safety officers “if there is a situation on campus that needs immediate attention.”

Students assigned to the on-call CERT unit will also be eligible to run for leadership positions on the executive board, including vice president, secretary, finance officer, public relations officer or class officer. Hyman will serve as the president for the remainder of the spring 2023 semester.

However, students who complete CERT training are not required to become active members of the on-call team. According to the interest meeting flier, there will be a separate section of the Quinnipiac CERT team reserved for “those that have completed training and opted out of the on-call unit.”

The extent to which the Department of Public Safety intends to collaborate with the CERT team remains unclear. Tony Reyes, chief of public safety, did not immediately respond to the Chronicle’s request for comment on the relationship between the department and the new student volunteer group.

However, Sacco said she and Hyman are solidifying the operational and logistical framework of the Quinnipiac CERT branch with the university, the town of Hamden and the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Sacco said her local CERT involvement inspired her to help form a campus-based CERT organization at Quinnipiac.

“I am a proud member of the Hamden CERT team, and I have enjoyed the opportunities it has given to me,” Sacco wrote. “The pandemic made me acutely aware of the need for basic household preparation for unanticipated disruptions.”

Hyman said that current events, including gun violence and climate change, have motivated her to prioritize emergency preparedness.

“I want our students to be completely safe no matter where they are on campus,” Hyman said. “So, if we need to learn skills to try and keep ourselves safe, keep our community safe, then that’s what we should do.”