Press Release

For Immediate Release


Special guests discuss the important roles volunteers play during emergencies


April 19, 2018 – Volunteering is good for you, and it is good for your city! In honor of National Volunteer Week, “Prep Talk” hosts chatted with Paula Gavin, Chief Service Officer at NYC Service, and Jonas Ballreich, Deputy Director for Community Resilience at NYC Emergency Management about the importance of volunteers before and during emergencies. You will also hear from two Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers who help to build stronger, more resilient communities through their service.

In this episode, Gavin and Ballreich share key tips and resources volunteers use to serve their communities effectively. You can find out whether there is an incorrect way to volunteer, and listen as the guests break down why an affiliation with a volunteer organization is critical during an emergency. You will also hear first-hand accounts how CERT volunteers are preparing their communities before an emergency. Click to listen to episode 9 on SoundCloud and iTunes.

“NYC Emergency Management relies on the great skills and resources of the City’s many volunteers dedicating their time and energy to help others prior to, during, and after an emergency,” said Jonas Ballreich, Deputy Director of Community Resilience at New York City Emergency Management. “Engaging both, spontaneous volunteers and established volunteer organizations, has proven critical to the success of the City’s disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts.”

“New York City residents are some of the strongest assets in our communities, particularly before, during, and after emergencies,” said Chief Service Officer at NYC Service, Paula Gavin. “When New Yorkers volunteer to serve their communities and each other, they help us build a stronger and more resilient City. I want to thank the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who volunteer their time, talents, and skills each year, engaging in their community and uniting through service. I also urge all residents to visit and connect to organizations in their neighborhoods that offer so many different opportunities to serve.”

NYC Service

NYC Service promotes volunteerism and service as a voice, a catalyst, and a capacity builder. The agency convenes and connects volunteers and national service members with City agencies and community-based organizations to create and strengthen volunteer and national service programs that focus on education, economic opportunity, environment, health and emergency management. The long-term impact of NYC Service is empowered organizations and residents who continuously seek to address and improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers. Both individuals served and those who serve benefit. NYC Service promotes volunteerism, engages New Yorkers in service, builds volunteer capacity and mobilizes the power of volunteers and national service members to influence New York City’s greatest needs.

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) in New York City

CERT is a volunteer program that teaches New Yorkers the skills needed to assist their families, friends, and communities in times of emergency. The CERT volunteers complete a training program in disaster preparedness and basic emergency response skills that include lessons in fire safety, search and rescue, traffic management, first aid and triage. After completing training, CERTs support their local communities by assisting City agencies that prepare for and respond to emergencies. The New York City CERT program started in 2003 with 106 volunteers. Today, there are more than 1,300 credentialed CERT volunteers representing more than 50 teams throughout New York City.


In a career spanning 40 years of leadership and executive management, Paula L. Gavin possesses a unique combination of business, education and non-profit experience, focused on youth, community, and leadership development. Paula was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as the New York City Chief Service Officer for NYC Service, a division of the Mayor’s Office, which promotes, engages and supports volunteer service in New York City and engages volunteers and national service members to address the City’s greatest needs. Paula began her career at AT&T, where she worked her way to vice president, supervising business planning, finance, personnel and training for AT&T’s Network Services operational unit of 60,000 employees. She went on to lead the YMCA of Greater New York as CEO and president of YMCA of Greater New York, where she led a multisite organization with a budget of $100 million. At National Urban Fellows, she served as president, supporting leadership development for women and people of color. Paula Gavin received her B.A. from the University of Delaware. She participated in Harvard University’s Advanced Management Program and serves as an adjunct professor at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. Paula continues to volunteer for YMCA’s internationally.

Jonas Ballreich is the Deputy Director for Community Resilience for New York City Emergency Management. He is responsible for the agency’s community preparedness program focusing on building local emergency planning and response capacity. Prior to joining NYC Emergency Management, Jonas worked in finance, human rights advocacy, refugee integration and disaster recovery. Jonas has a Bachelor in Finance from San Diego State University and a Master in International Affairs and Economics from Johns Hopkins University. 

Eric Hébert
joined Brooklyn 13 CERT at the end of 2013.  Eric is a strong proponent of team and local activity, participating in and organizing numerous volunteer opportunities. He moved into the deputy, and then team chief, position shortly afterwards.  Having accumulated 571 CERT volunteer hours in 2017 alone, Eric currently serves as Brooklyn CERT Borough Coordinator.  Through events such as the Coney Island SAREX (search and rescue exercise) and the Brooklyn Spooktacular Meet & Greet, Eric continues to dedicate his work to enhancing volunteer engagement and capabilities throughout the entire borough.

Rebeca Bittner-Torres is an active member of Manhattan 10N CERT; she joined the program at the end of 2010.  Rebeca participates in numerous training sessions and is a member of the Ready NY Speaker’s Bureau, a select group of CERT volunteer presenters who are deployed throughout the city to assist with presentations and events.  A bilingual volunteer, Rebeca was a great asset in the recent Hurricane Maria deployment, using her Spanish to assist clients seeking services and provided psychological first aid at the city’s service center to support hurricane victims.  With the Hurricane Maria deployment being the longest operation in NYC CERT’s history, Rebeca accumulated 549 volunteer hours, the highest during this span of four months.

NYC Emergency Management ‘Prep Talk’ Podcast Series:

Get ready for your emergency prep talk! NYC Emergency Management has launched “Prep Talk,” a new podcast series that engages listeners about emergency management topics. Listen as NYC Emergency Management hosts Omar Bourne and Allison Pennisi talk with guests who keep our city safe and prepared before, during and after emergencies. You can listen to “Prep Talk” on SoundCloud and iTunes, and subscribe now to stay up-to-date on the latest episodes.