SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, South Orange residents have turned to their town’s Community Emergency Response Team in order to be prepared in case of another emergency situation.

The program offers multi-week training sessions to teach citizens to respond to things such as flooding, fire and terrorism.  Chairman Andrew Boyarsky, who has had experience in emergency services and project management for more than 20 years, is now looking to maintain community interest and do more to stress the importance of CERT training.

While attending The Johns Hopkins University for his undergraduate degree in international studies, Boyarsky participated in an exchange program in the former Soviet Union.  Once he graduated in 1990, he found himself back overseas in various European locations for about four years working in different war zones and emergency situations for organizations such as the International Red Cross, but he said it was his time in Croatia that was the most rewarding.

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It was during his stay there that he spoke to his mother, who was having problems with her computer, a common occurrence, he realized, among older people. He saw that there was a need for help in this field and began thinking of ways he could develop a program designed specifically for giving seniors technology training.

Although Boyarsky loved the exciting experience of working overseas doing something other than a typical desk job, he felt “it does wear on you” after a while.  He decided to go back to the U.S. to get his master’s degree in business from Arthur D. Little School of Management, later renamed the Hult International Business School, in Massachusetts.

What he learned at Hult, combined with the conversation he had with his mother, led him to develop Surfing Seniors, a company that provided tailored computer training for seniors in their homes.  While the business did not last, Boyarsky said the learning experience was well worth it.

“The business ended up not working out,” he said. He added that letting go of the company was the best thing to do at the time.

Boyarsky’s career moved along the path of being project managers for various companies, ending in 2007 when he took on his current role of project director for the City University of New York School of Professional Studies where he manages an emergency preparedness program for the Tri-State Area. 

Rebecca Brown Cesarani, a co-project director at CUNY, said Boyarsky is “a committed emergency responder … and is not afraid to test the limits or chat with colleagues about how he did something.”

“In a way I’ve come back to this career in emergency response after kind of starting on it earlier,” Boyarsky said. “But the work I do now is not always on the front lines.”

When Boyarsky and his wife moved from Brooklyn to South Orange in October 2011, his emergency response experience led him to volunteer with CERT, a program started in 1985 by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which recognized the need for citizens to be trained in responding to the early stages of disasters on their own. 

During Superstorm Sandy, Boyarsky and his team stayed overnight in shelters to make sure the people seeking assistance had the food, water and necessities needed to remain safe and comfortable through the storm. When CERT’s co-Director Jeffrey Angel decided to step down from his position at the end of 2012, Boyarsky became chairman.

“The program grew to where it needed someone with some long-term experience and a commitment to spend the time continuing to grow it,” said Village President Alex Torpey, who is also South Orange’s Office of Emergency Management coordinator. “Andrew stepped up and has done a truly great job.”

Boyarsky said being a part of CERT is beneficial to individuals and their families and neighbors and has seen the positive effects it has on people across the Tri-State Area.

“The most rewarding part is seeing people utilize plans and training,” he said. “People that see me out say, ‘the training you provided was excellent and we implemented it and it worked well and we want to thank you.’ That's why we do what we do.”

For more information on CERT or to find out how you can get involved, go to http://southorange.org/CERT/ or email SouthOrangeCERT@gmail.com  

The reporter is a journalism major in Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.