Heroes on Campus

Undergraduates join local emergency response team

By Laura Reindl

Robbie Cohen ’12, MPA ’14, former chief of the University’s Harpur’s Ferry ambulance service and a volunteer firefighter, secured grant funding that enabled eight Binghamton students to join the local CERT team.On Sept. 7, 2011, massive flooding overwhelmed the Greater Binghamton area, causing $1 billion in damages and the displacement of thousands of local families.

At the time, Robbie Cohen was a senior political science major and executive director of Harpur’s Ferry, the student-run ambulance service on campus. “Harpur’s Ferry provided patient care, medical transport and disaster medical-planning services at the University’s Events Center shelter,” says Cohen. “We had the best team of student volunteers, EMS and general shelter staff. I felt like we could make a tangible difference for our patients and their families.”

The next year, Cohen stayed in Binghamton to begin his Master of Public Administration degree. As a graduate assistant in the Binghamton University Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), Cohen’s experiences with emergency management (as a member of Harpur’s Ferry and a volunteer firefighter since high school) inspired him to take action in Binghamton — a community still rebuilding after the flood — by developing a way for students to safely and effectively help manage emergency response efforts in the event of future natural disasters.

Binghamton students Robert Browne and Melissa Mendoza participate in a disaster simulation at the West Corners Fire Station in Endicott as part of the training necessary to join the Broome County Community Emergency Response Team.Partnering with Binghamton University Emergency Management, the Broome County Office of Emergency Response and the Broome County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Cohen recruited four civic-minded undergraduate students to join the CERT. He and CCE staff secured a $3,500 Ross Fund for University/Community Collaboration Grant, which funded the students’ training and equipment, and allowed four additional students to join the following year. Students commit as sophomores to serve on the CERT for the duration of their undergraduate career.

CERT members supplement professional emergency responders’ work by connecting with the broader civilian public and supporting a smooth professional response in times of disaster or potential chaos. CERT members are trained in traffic control and highway safety, wilderness search and rescue, CPR, first aid and shelter operations. They respond to floods, severe storms and other natural disasters, and also to large community events

Jiuyang Zhang '17 works with a member of the Broome County Emergency Response Team during his training in May 2015.“The students bring a diverse perspective to the team,” says Michelle Feyerabend ’90, MEd ’92, a native of Binghamton who is a CERT lieutenant. “When I was a student at Binghamton University, there were few connections between the University and the community. The conscious effort the administration at Binghamton University has put forth in creating opportunities for the students to be involved in the community has been so valuable.”


Student CERT members are recruited every fall. Interested sophomores should visit the Center for Civic Engagement's CERT webpage for more information.

Last Updated: 4/27/16