My Youth Preparedness Initiative

by George Keeney  |   

My Youth Preparedness Initiative (MYPI) course came to Valdez and succeeded at the high school. Seventeen students are in the final stage of completing the course they started back in August. These students went through the Community Emergency Response Team course learning what they can do when a disaster occurs. From helping their families to working with the Fire Department, these teams will be able to help whatever location they call home. The training they receive will benefit them throughout life. If they need to conduct a search and rescue or go through a neighborhood and help those in need, I know these students will succeed in helping their community. The youth are our first responders and as we train them in emergency response, we find they can take charge and direct the help as needed.

Sarah Carter, an avid outdoors enthusiast, is one of the guests at the MYPI Alaska class in Valdez. As an instructor with the Avalanche Center here in Valdez and a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician, Sarah is very busy with teaching avalanche awareness to the students. Discussions about what to watch for and what to expect in a search and rescue in the backcountry were our main topics. Sarah is an avalanche technician and instructor. Many years of working and playing in the mountains has shown her the devastation an avalanche can do! Sarah was one member of the Valdez Backcountry Rescue team that responded to emergencies in the Thompson Pass area. Glacier Rescue, high and low angle rescues, and snow machine and skiing accidents were common in this terrain. The students in MYPI went over the areas to avoid and those that they would have to watch out for when enjoying the beauty of the mountains. The beacon demonstration along with other rescue gear Sarah carries with her in the backcountry showed the class what they might have to carry if responding to an emergency.

The students’ homework was to help their families create and use the communications plan that they filled in. At the classroom, we filled in information on the Clinic, Hospital, Police and Fire in the communications plan. That gave the students more time to work on gathering supplies and gear to put in a family disaster kit, utilizing the information that Dan Belanger from Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management gave the class and the pamphlets we downloaded from the web page for items.

Not only did the students make the communications plan and disaster kits with their families, but they went out and did the same thing with six other families in the community.

Aaron Baczuk is the Police Officer and School Resource Officer that visited our class. Aaron is with the Valdez Police Department that helps train our students and teaches the ALICE program to be able to respond to a school shooting. Aaron told the class how he became a police officer. Stationed in the Gilson Middle School, Aaron enjoys working with the students and answering their questions. When Aaron was in kindergarten, he stated he wanted to be a police officer. He continued his education through college to go on to get his masters degree in criminal justice.

Another guest to our group was Matt Wadsworth, the Administrative Director for the Valdez Medical Counseling Center. Matt talked to the students about the psychological trauma a first responder will have to deal with in their careers. Matt also discussed how he became a counselor at the center. Matt works with all ages throughout the community. He is also the Critical Incident Management Team coordinator and instructor. Dealing with stress is a huge issue we will all have to face. You need to find a way to relieve the stresses in your life. The fact that Matt is available to everyone is another plus for Valdez.

I discussed with the teams how to respond using the incident command system. The students responded to a mock disaster having to do with an earthquake and tsunami. The drill went through three days, and by the end of the exercise, the students knew they would need lots of money, people and equipment. As the former Fire Chief and Emergency Manager, I explained the City of Valdez Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) and set it in motion. The class came up with some good questions as to how prepared we truly are and if we are ready to respond to this type of disaster.

Another disaster we looked at and drilled was the annual exercise of mass prophylaxis, with the City of Valdez/Public Health Nurse, Terri Lynch. The class participated in the exercise by being a distraction to the drill. I sent students to act the part of people that were sick and should have stayed home; others played the part of being under the age of 18 and needing to have a parent permission slip allowing them to get a shot. The city funds this exercise in conjunction with the annual flu shots. The Public Health Nurse is in charge of the event and assigns the volunteers their jobs. In Valdez, we have many volunteers. With this drill, we had 72 volunteers come out to conduct this exercise. Nurses, nursing students, EMTs and the public came out and staffed the stations.

These young students became a team and do know how to respond to disasters.

When placed in a mock medical disaster these members of their CERT Teams were able to respond, triage, move and treat members of the Valdez High School. The first team donned their CERT personal protective gear and entered the area locating the injured. Secondly, that team asked for assistance in moving the injured out of the room into triage treatment areas in the hallway. As the teams finished their searches and moving patients, they concentrated on treating the injured. Teams three and four set up the treatment areas. Those with red tags (immediate), yellow (delayed) and green (the walking injured) were placed in sections of the hallway. Treatment of the patients consisted of bandaging, splinting and giving oxygen in the triage areas, along with taking three sets of vitals. The fourth tag color was black, and they placed them in another room or left them where they lay. Students learned that in a disaster you have to make hard decisions about life and death. If a person is so badly injured and you have lots of injured people, you have to make the decision that some will die.

To see and listen to those in charge, you feel the sense that they will be able to do the job, and then you realize they are the present-day first responders.

By teaching our youth today we allow them to take charge of their life as adults now and become prepared for what can affect them in the future.

Having been the lead instructor here in Valdez, I know the students will be the ones to come to the aid of those in need during the worst time in a disaster. I believe these students have succeeded!