The attacks of Sept 11, 2001 brought Steve Millian to the training for volunteers who in 2005 would form the Hopatcong Community Emergency Response Team.
Hurricane Sandy brought him and his team to Hopatcong High School where for two weeks they supported and comforted community members who had been driven from their homes by the storm.
Millian and many of the 50 members of the team were present at a recent council meeting as Mayor Sylvia Petillo and the Borough Council thanked them for their service.
“We depend on you so much,” Petillo said, “And you never complain. You make all the difference.”
Millian, the CERT team leader, said that after Sept. 11, he felt he wanted to help his community.
He was clearly proud of his team’s efforts during Sandy.
“We were at that school for a full two weeks,” he said.
Hopatcong has the only single-municipality CERT team in Sussex County, Petillo said. The other is operated by the county.
The concept originated in Los Angeles in 1985, and a 1987 earthquake solidified the idea that trained civilians could help in disaster response, Petillo said.
CERT training was initiated in Sussex County in 2005, and Hopatcong endorsed the idea.
CERT volunteers are trained to assist neighbors, businesses, and government agencies, and in an emergency become auxiliary responders, Petillo said.
“These groups can provide immediate assistance to victims in their area, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training, and collect disaster intelligence that will help professional responders,” she said.
Hopatcong’s CERT team has assisted in missing persons searches, conducted disaster drills at local schools, and in 2007, participated in a major exercise at Picatinny Arsenal.
But it was the care and attention they showed those at the shelter that meant the most, Petillo said. CERT members were patient and caring in a very difficult situation.
“Whenever needed, they are ready, willing and able to assist at a moment’s notice,” the mayor said.
CERT members receive 10 to 12 weeks of basic training, and three weekends of training in basic fire and police procedures, search and rescue, emergency medical operations and other safety and disaster readiness training, Petillo said.
The Hopatcong CERT team meets monthly at the senior center. Meetings are 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. The program is open to any borough residents 18 years or older. For information call (973) 810-8347.