Lou was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness.
Growing up, I have always been fascinated with the emergency services field. When I was just a teenager, I worked on emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances for a local emergency vehicle repair facility. When I became a manager for the facility, I interacted with fire chiefs, police chiefs and other public safety officials. This increased my awareness for the need for public safety and community service.
After moving to Hoboken, New Jersey, I read the local newspaper and discovered there was a new program that the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was launching called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). I thought to myself that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to fulfill my desire to give back to the community particularly given my knowledge of emergency vehicles and communications (I am also a licensed Amateur Radio Operator, K2XDX). I joined the team in April 2010, shortly before Hurricane Irene hit shores of New Jersey four months later.
Hurricane Irene was, in effect, a “baptism by fire” for me and many of us on CERT. We had to learn quickly, adapt, and respond to the community’s needs as a result of the frequently-changing environment. Once Hoboken survived the effects of Hurricane Irene, there were an overwhelming number of applications by residents to join CERT, which was an exhilarating feeling. I felt a new sense of pride and enthusiasm in my community. I then became CERT Coordinator in June 2012 and as Coordinator, I became responsible for recruiting, managing, and training volunteers. At present, the team consists of more than 100 members.
Ironically, Hurricane Irene was just a precursor to what was about to happen: Superstorm Sandy. Superstorm Sandy was particularly damaging to the New Jersey coast and extremely damaging to Hoboken especially due to the strong storm surge, high tide, and full moon, all of which contributed to Hoboken being 80% flooded. The storm also created a loss of electricity for more than 10 days. Simply put, the City of Hoboken was desperate for as much assistance as possible. I had to think quickly for resolutions to the multiple problems that arose during and after the storm.
After experiencing these storms, I have learned the value of educating the public on emergency preparedness. In conjunction with the Mayor’s Office, I am launching a disaster preparedness plan called “Hoboken Ready” through Town Hall meetings, flyers, and social media. I am also always exploring and testing new technology that will advance communications during a traumatic event. I believe that with strong citizen volunteers and appropriate resources, all communities have the potential to conquer any challenging environment that they may face.
Lou Casciano is the Operations and Training Officer and CERT Coordinator for the City of Hoboken’s Office of Emergency Management.