UM to form emergency response team

The Canes Emergency Response Team (CERT) started as Danny Carvajal’s idea of UM student-run equivalent to the Community Emergency Response Team.

Carvajal, a senior, said his main reason for starting the campus safety task force was a product of to the past two unusually active hurricane seasons.

“Miami is the hurricane capital of the world,” Carvajal said. “What happens if a category five [hurricane] does come through the University of Miami campus? Are we ready to respond?”

Carvajal’s idea for a new student organization was timely. He contacted Keith “Fletch” Fletcher, director of the Butler Volunteer Services Center (VSC), in August 2005 to get the organization rolling.

Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, had expressed similar ideas.

“Whitely approached [the VSC] to create a program that could help the University in times of crisis,” Fletcher said. “Both ideas mutually merged and became CERT as it is now.”

The organization would be responsible for activities such as assisting with food service, facilitating emergency response or helping disabled or handicapped students around campus.

Carvajal proceeded to write the CERT constitution and is awaiting approval from the risk management office and general counsel office, according to Fletcher.

CERT started with 15 members; Danny Carvajal serves as president, along with Co-Executive Advisors Fletcher and David Shatz, M.D. Under them are two non-executive advisors and a seven-member executive board. The president, advisors and e-board make up the command staff.

Under the command staff are a team of supervisors, each responsible for a group of team leaders, who in turn manage three CERT members each.

CERT is sponsored by FEMA and Miami-Dade Emergency Management. Carvajal and Matthew Shpiner, vice president of operations, were sent to a FEMA-operated seminar, where they became certified to train those who would become trainers at UM.

Prospective members must go through a 20- to 24-hour training program spread over three days. Two days are devoted to eight-hour classroom sessions, taught by Carvajal and Shpiner.

The third day is a four-hour session at the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Urban Search and Rescue site. Students will participate in mock search-and-rescue drills and a fire scenario, according to Carvajal.

Upon officially becoming a CERT member, students are rewarded with book scholarships from the department of student affairs.

In the event of an emergency, University of Miami administrators would notify Fletcher of the situation and he would contact Carvajal who would notify the executive board and the supervisors.

Fletcher described the process as “regimented” and stressed that “students won’t be allowed to deploy on their own.”

Both Carvajal and Fletcher are pleased with the progress of CERT and the initiative students have taken to create a successful, well-trained response team.

“I think it is just a tribute to the caliber of student leadership we have on campus and even in times of a weather crisis or natural disaster that people are so willing to give their time,” Fletcher said.

Jason Albrecht can be contacted at