Middle and high school programs give students emergency response skills they can use in their daily lives and teach to others.
[Photo: Colorado students learn and practice the American Heart Association's CPR Anytime program so they are ready to respond when needed. Courtesy of ReadyColorado.]
Several surveys have found that Americans are largely unprepared for disasters despite efforts by emergency managers. Several factors contribute to this state of affairs, but the ultimate solution may be instilling the values of disaster preparedness in children as they grow up.
“We really have to start changing that culture with youth, so that they know that preparedness is just part of the skills that they have and one of the things that they plan for in their lives from here on out,” said Cathy Prudhomme, community preparedness manager with the Colorado Governor’s Office of Homeland Security.
ReadyColorado, a public awareness campaign originally started by the Denver Urban Area Security Initiative, has sponsored two courses this summer aimed at giving middle and high school students the skills they will need to help mitigate the impact disasters have on them, their loved ones and their communities. The courses provide skills including CPR and first aid for the middle school class, adding psychological first aid, basic search and rescue, and triage for the high school students.
The state’s schools currently offer minimal disaster preparedness education. Using state Citizen Corps funds, ReadyColorado is developing a template for jurisdictions that they can customize to teach students about hazards in their region. “We’re doing the pilots and then after that we’re going to develop a tool kit that we’ll roll out statewide next year,” Prudhomme said.
Photo: Student participants discuss 10 different emergency/survival items, and prioritize which would be most useful in a survival scenario they have been given—a plane crash in Alaska with subzero temperatures. Courtesy of ReadyColorado.
The middle school class held on June 29 in Aurora included a team-building exercise to teach students to work better with people of different backgrounds. Other topics included bullying, being aware of one’s surroundings, fire safety, safely using the Internet, the different types of weather in the state, family and pet preparedness, and the importance of 72-hour disaster supply kits.
Students said they wanted to learn more, and they may not have learned this information if it weren’t for the class. “A huge majority of the kids said ‘We want it to be longer. We want to be here for more than just one day,’” Prudhomme said.
Parents also provided positive feedback. “We got several notes from parents that said, ‘Brian came home and taught all of his friends and all of our family members CPR after he attended the course,’” she said. “So it’s a skill that they take home, and they can build upon that by training other people in their family and friends with the materials that they got.”
The high school course, held at the Denver Police Academy, included instruction in first aid, CPR, psychological first aid, the psychological effects of disasters and resilience. For a team-building exercise, students chose to produce a video shared on the last day or to learn to apply moulage to mock victims. The program also included sessions conducted by the state’s fusion center on terrorism and cyber-security.
On the last day, the students exercised their new skills in a tornado response drill. “Those are skills that they can apply in a disaster, but they’re also practical skills that they can go back and [use] if somebody at their school has committed suicide,” Prudhomme said. “There are skills that they can learn on how to deal with that grief and the response to those types of things.”
Each course accommodated 30 students.
The high school program also included lunchtime career development presentations from FEMA, a meteorologist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State Patrol, a doctor from the Children’s Hospital in Denver who went to Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake, the Colorado Division of Emergency Management and the Denver Police Department crime lab.