Name: Canes Emergency Response Team
Umbrella Organization: Butler Center for Service and Leadership
Institution: University of Miami
Date Founded: February 2006
Founder: Danny Carvajal
Co-Founders: Brian Bellows, Matthew Shpiner
President: Stephanie Smart
Advisor: Andrew Wiemer
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made an unexpected visit to the University of Miami. The storm, originally predicted to hit northern Broward County, made a sudden and rather dangerous jog south just as the storm was making landfall. As a result, the eye of this Category 2 storm passed over the University leaving downed trees and power lines in her wake. In the hours and days after the hurricane passed, it soon became clear that the University did not have an adequate response plan in place for a direct strike. It took one civic minded individual to realize that he and his fellow students could do something more to help their school during times of disaster rather than being locked down in their dorms waiting for rescue.
So, Daniel Carvajal began to shape his vision of a student run Emergency Response Team by modeling it after the national CERT program. Danny arranged an initial meeting with Roslyn Viterbo, the CERT Coordinator for Miami-Dade County at the Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management. Roslyn was extremely supportive of Danny’s vision of a studen driven Emergency Response Team and has been a key player in bringing the CERT program at UM to fruition. After gaining the support and approval from the County, Danny now needed some brilliant minds to make the idea happen.
Being a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, he approached his fellow brothers with his idea for the new student group and
asked if anyone wanted to join. Two young men, Brian Bellows and Tarik Madni, rose to the challenge. Together, along with Danny’s longtime friend Matt Shpiner, they began to go through the motions of starting what would soon become one of the most complex student organizations ever formed here at the U. The first task was to establish CERT as a student organization, and therefore would need funding. So, the decision was made to form CERT under the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development. This required the team to have its own set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The four young men divided up the sections of the constitution and started writing. Some missed class, others put off homework in order to try and get the project moving. Matt had been out of town when the preliminary work had begun, meaning that he still had not met Brian or Tarik face to face, and yet was sharing e-mail correspondence on a frequent basis with them.
Unfortunately, Tarik was unable to maintain a full time presence in the organization, but the other three men continued their hard work. By December of 2005, the major Vice Presidential positions had been filled by an interview process. Advisors for the program were found in the form of Keith “Fletch” Fletcher and Dr. David Shatz, and soon CERT finally found its current home under Fletch’s watchful eye in the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development.
Unfortunately, things were not as simple as just writing up a constitution. Due to the nature of the work the team would be doing, the University had major liability issues that had to be overcome. It took several interviews and several meetings with upper level administration to work through all the legal issues, along with generous amount of prayers and hopes.
Finally, in late February 2006, after the graduation of Basic Recruit Class One, Vice President Pat Whitely and the rest of the UM Administration approved the team to function as an Emergency Response Organization that would deploy only under the strictest of orders from VP Whitely.
By April, CERT had completed its first Practice Drill and was in the process of preparing for its first hurricane season in June of 2006. At the end of August, the team was finally able to show the world its wide range of capabilities by responding to a full scale Disaster Readiness Exercise, which featured a mass casualty incident, a live burn on campus
grounds, and even a special appearance by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter!
Currently, our program has grown to over 40 members with a 10-person Executive Board. We are able to cover all corners of the Coral Gables Main Campus if needed, and have the ability to reach out to the local College-Town area surrounding UM. If requested and approved by the University, the team has the capabilities of also responding to major county, state, or national disasters.
The University of Miami is the only higher education institution in the country to maintain a CERT program that is strictly comprised and run by undergraduate students.