Extension recruits teens for disaster readiness

Lowndes County Extension agent Sharon Patrick (left) provides safety support for Oktibbeha County Extension agent Julie White during training for the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative at Mississippi State University. Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols, a Citizens Corps trainer, is supervising the hands-on lesson on Aug. 4, 2012. (File photo by MSU Ag Communications/Linda Breazeale)

By Brittnie Burton
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE — Learning opportunities for teens do not end when school lets out for the summer in communities across Mississippi.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is recruiting students in six counties for the inaugural Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative, or MyPI.

“Six counties have been awarded MyPI classes that will take place this summer,” said Ryan Akers, program coordinator and assistant Extension professor at MSU. “The county selection process was lengthy and depended on the commitment of leaders who had completed the training and their determination to teach 18 to 24 teens in their communities.”

Akers said the program’s emphasis is on disaster preparedness, not response.

“Safety is the ultimate goal. Instructors will teach skills, realizing that the safety of others is at stake. They also understand their responsibility to the community’s first responders,” he said.

The first counties taking part in MyPI are Grenada, Jackson, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Quitman and Sunflower. Initial plans call for two classes in Oktibbeha County.

“MyPI is a dynamic, engaging and comprehensive 10-week program that attempts to achieve one clear goal: enhance preparedness for individuals, families and communities,” Akers said. “Everything that we do in this program contributes to that goal, and we use a very energetic and creative vehicle to drive home our messages: teens.”

Akers said MyPI is the most comprehensive disaster preparedness program for teens in the country, building on Community Emergency Response Training programs.

“We have added to the existing Teen-CERT program to include CPR and defibrillator training and a technology track where they will learn about smoke alarms, weather radios, ham radios, smartphone apps and social media,” he said. “Participants also explore career options, including fire safety, public safety and emergency management. We are training the next generation of emergency responders.”

Additional components include storm awareness information from the National Weather Service and a disaster simulation from the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has input in the training material.

These are additional elements to the foundation of the program, which is the FEMA-certified Teen-CERT curriculum. Teen-CERT includes disaster preparedness, fire safety, medical considerations, CERT organization, terrorism, disaster psychology and light search and rescue.

MyPI organizers have created a capstone service project called PREP + 6. In this leadership initiative, each participant will develop from scratch or further enhance their family’s emergency supply kit and family communication plans. Then, each participant selects six other families in the community and repeats the preparation process.

Akers said graduates of the program will successfully complete the FEMA checklist for their families’ emergency supply kits and family communication plans, in addition to helping six additional families or friends.

“In one class of 24 students, that would be 168 families that are better prepared for a disaster or emergency,” he said. “MyPI allows our teens to take a leadership role in their preparedness efforts and those of their family and neighbors.”

Sharon Patrick, an Extension agent in Lowndes County, said local first responders are enthusiastic about the program’s potential.

“We had a meeting with the first responders to explain our goals. They realize that the time citizens spend preparing for a disaster — both the items in the supply kit and the communication plans — can mean the difference between life and death in some disasters in the minutes before responders arrive on the scene,” she said. “We are fortunate in Lowndes County to have an enthusiastic leader ready to teach and an enthusiastic amateur radio instructor willing to contribute his knowledge.”

Grenada County Extension agent Jan Walton said local support will be the key to a successful program.

“We will have a wide variety of agencies and groups involved in the 10-week program,” she said. “The school district is on board, along with the local hospital, law enforcement, the fire department, Holmes Community College’s Grenada campus and others.”

Walton said student recruitment is underway with plans to start classes the third week of May at the county Extension building.

“We want it to appeal to students considering medical or first responder fields in their future. This will give them greater opportunities to explore career options,” she said.

Teens and communities interested in the MyPI program should contact Akers at cakers@humansci.msstate.edu or 662-325-5914 or contact the local county Extension office for more information.