Teamed With Roosevelt Island Disabled Association

Today, Roosevelt Island CERT Volunteers Deliver Their 10,000 Meal To Neighbors In Need

Updated 4 weeks ago
CERTs pose before going out on their mission to help Roosevelt Island neighbors.
CERTs pose before going out on their mission to help Roosevelt Island neighbors.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

"This weekend's CERT deployment, the 15th week (3+ months), will deliver the 10,000th meal to the Roosevelt Island community," Frank Farance announced. The effort launched to meet the needs of local residents during the coronavirus crisis.

"Truly, the whole team of volunteers, is doing everything at our professional best, including NYCEM CERT training/protocol, CSP/CUNY training, NYS DHSES training, and FEMA training," Farance added. 

"Furthermore, Wendy Hersh (RIDA), C&C Management (Shout out to Doryne Isley), Evangel Church, and Dream Center have been solid, generous, and reliable partners."  

(Note: RIDA is providing six-days-a-week food support operations, CERT provides the deliveries on Saturday.)

As Wendy says, "I couldn't do this operation without CERT!"  

"Yes, that is true, and CERTs come from around the City (Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan) to support this Roosevelt Island deployment.  Even after all the volunteers have left, if there is a late delivery (which has happened several times), CERTs stay around to complete the extra delivery - yes, you can count on CERTs!

Summary: CERTs at Roosevelt Island Food Distribution

Provided by Frank Farance

A year ago, CERTs were marching in the Gay Pride (June 30) and Disability Pride (July 14) parades, LGBTQ Pride Reception at Gracie Mansion (June 20), CERT graduation (July 8), Radio Advisory Committee meeting and saying Goodbye to NYCEM staffer Sarah (June 26), CERT-DEP training (June 27), supporting an overnight Tiger Dam Filling in Long Island City (June 28-29), doing a radio exercise with CERT BK14 in Midwood (June 29), and supporting the Women's Soccer Team celebration at City Hall (July 10) -- all that packed into a couple weeks! 

Three years ago, CERTs were starting out with their first City-wide long-term deployment in the Brooklyn warehouse (sorting City-wide donations for Puerto Rico) and East Harlem (Hurricanes Maria, et al, service center).

Now CERTs are in a very very different kind of long-term deployment: we're out on our own, including CDP operations, COVID-19 sanitizing supplies at DOE warehouses, visiting DFTA sites, supporting NYCHA sites in collaboration with NY Cares with food/PPE distribution, distributing masks and restaurant advice on short notice (July 4 weekend deployment), and several kinds of food distribution (Roosevelt Island, Vandalia in Starrett City).

This weekend will be the 15th week of CERT deployment (3+ months), with a steady participation of CERTs.  According to the stats, we will be delivering our 10,000th meal this weekend! 

Truly, this is a CERT program success!


Here are some things that you might find unique/rare about this deployment:

  • The operation is run completely by CERTs, at every level.
  • The operation run according to FEMA 244 (Volunteer Management and Spontaneous Volunteers) as we have multiple volunteer organizations and many spontaneous volunteers.  Volunteers beyond CERTs include: Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA), Carter Burden, C&C Management (building staff), Evangel Church (Astoria / Long Island City), Dream Center (Bushwick), Mosaic Church (Roosevelt Island), and others.
  • The operation uses FEMA ICS with roles Incident Commander, Safety Officer, Operations Chief, and Logistics Chief - along with several Deputies and Recorders, and conforms to NIMS and CIMS.
  • This deployment is a "training farm" for CERT leadership as many CERTs have served in this command staff and section roles.  In particular, a CERT serving a role needs to not just do the role once but achieve proficiency in the role, which typically requires being in the role for 2-4 weeks.
  • The "Secret Sauce" for volunteers seems to be using FEMA 244 + FEMA ICS, as there is less friction among volunteer organizations because everyone serves a particular role for 60-120 minutes without the organizational structure of their volunteer affiliation.
  • We use incident command vests (just like the ones at the Randall's Island drills) to designate roles: Orange (command staff and leadership), Yellow (on-site staff), Red (radio operations), Blue (partnership with one volunteer entity - a special protocol is used), and other colors (for volunteer distribution teams).  The incident command vests serve as a "uniform" as clients recognize a common uniform, name placard, and back placard; and it is consistent with the idea "leaving your role in your volunteer organization and serving in the assigned role in the incident", and also consistent with FEMA 100, 200, and 700.
  • Performance metrics are key during operations, and we're typically delivering to a family every 27 to 57 seconds.  We're not worried about shaving off a second or two, but the performance metrics help us self-validate that we're doing the operation in a reasonable amount time and resource.
  • Discussing performance metrics is a key strategy during the hotwash at the end: when the team hears the numbers, and those are reasonable numbers, we're starting off with a hotwash of a Successful Operation, of which the remaining hotwash discussion involves tweaks or improvements (which we do improve).  Psychologically, the metrics objectively establish "we've just completed a successful operation", and it gets people focused upon constructive criticism.
  • A deployment brief is created every week, including maps, weather briefing, contact information, and room for buddy information.  CERTs and volunteers get a copy, which is printed double-sided on a single sheet of paper that folds over into quarters: suitable for writing down a buddy's contact info, and keeping in your pocked during distribution.  A copy of last week's deployment briefing is the second attachment to this E-mail. 


Here are some things that volunteers discover and very much appreciate:

  • Everyone gets an orientation: as inspired by FEMA 244, which is similar to NY Cares team leader training.
  • Everyone learns some ICS basics, such as Unity of Command (they only report to one person), and Safety is Priority One (if they see something unsafe, let us know about it ASAP).
  • Everyone learns safety protocols, including health/safety practices, No-Contact protocol, and Buddy System (just like CERT).
  • Everyone knows there is personnel accountability: all volunteers are told "Either return within 30 minutes or report in (call/text) within 30 minutes, OTHERWISE CERTs will send out a search and rescue team to find you".  Every participant takes personnel accountability seriously.
  • Everyone is trained on Psychological First Aid (consistent with NYCEM PFA 100 training), so they properly interact with clients, and volunteers are also trained on Self Care.
  • We do hotwashes, including volunteers ... and rolling hotwashes are done in an ongoing way so volunteers don't waste their time waiting until the end for the hotwash.


We have adapted week-by-week (even within an operational period) to the needs of the mission and operation, the volunteers, and the community we serve.  Here are some improvements and adaptations over the past three months:

  • We added a Call Center Operation to call clients before they receive the food, which has increased the delivery success rate from 75% (1 of 4 deliveries failed) to 99% success.
  • The call center operations adapted to include Canvassing Operations, consistent with CERT DOHMH-PECO operations, to determine the kinds and quantities of food actually needed.
  • We added Telecommunications Services, including MOFI (Wifi + hotspot + wired networks + router) and VOIP (to increase calling operations beyond the capabilities of the facility) -- just as you've seen NYCEM and DoITT provide at service centers.
  • We have adapted the floor plan layout into separated Staging Area (for logistics, food delivery, sorting, packing) and Base Area (for training, waiting, and most volunteers) ... all with FEMA ICS signage, consistent with CERT Service Center training, DAFN Coordinator training, and CSP Hurricane/Evacuation Center training.
  • Logistics efforts in the Staging Area (truck unloading, moving, food sorting, schedule assignment) have greatly benefited from CERT warehouse operations, including 2017 Hurricane Maria ops at Brooklyn Warehouse, 2020 CDP operations, and 2020 food sorting operations at Pier 36.
  • We added a Teaming Protocol (one CERT teams with the building staff on deliveries) as there were quality problems previous to CERTs' teaming.
  • We have Expanded the Teaming Protocol with new/inexperienced volunteers to improve delivery quality.
  • We added Traffic Control to address safety issues when the food truck arrives and departs.
  • We have added logistics and operations equipment, including delivery carts to increase efficiency of volunteers.
  • We used Radio Operations for status reporting in the field, we discovered good/poor areas of radio coverage, and made a Radio Coverage Map for the benefit of future local emergency operations.
  • We Expanded Radio Operations to include both 400 MHz radios (direct communications) and 700 MHz radios (for relay among separate 400 MHz nets).
  • We have adapted and re-sized according to the number of volunteers arriving, in every case, keeping the administrative effort to less than 20% of the staffing (10-person effort => 2 administrative persons, 30-person effort => about 4-6 administrative) and most of the effort going towards food distribution.
  • We have had a collaborative/co-operative effort among all volunteers and volunteer organizations. 

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