University of Alaska Anchorage Emergency Management partners with innovative national award-winning youth preparedness initiative, MyPI National
This week in Anchorage, Alaska at the UAA University Center, the initial delegation of instructors within the Alaska Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI Alaska, completed a comprehensive certification and training workshop led by the MyPI National Coordination Team, and became the twenty first state to train instructors under the national project umbrella. According to Ron Swartz, the MyPI Alaska Program Manager, and who serves as the Emergency Manager for the University of Alaska Anchorage, “MyPI Alaska will be a ‘force multiplier’ in resilience and response by initially graduating 125 teens, who will be heavily engaged in emergency preparedness in their communities, influencing their peers, their families, and with each teen working with six additional families through their capstone service project.”
Added Swartz, “These initial 125 graduates will work with 875 households, which will support and add legitimacy to existing readiness campaigns, and will also help develop our students’ levels of confidence, civic responsibility and, of course, leadership attributes and skillsets. Hopefully, some of our students will become advocates that choose planning and response as careers. Upon learning of MyPI’s three key components, I was compelled to bring it to Alaska. The foundation for the program is the FEMA-developed CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) curriculum. I had been using CERT as a curriculum on five different campuses to minimize the loss of life and property during and after a crisis has occurred. Expanding the idea of trained ‘first responders’ among teens is a natural extension of our efforts.”
Over the next 12 months, MyPI Alaska will be offering this innovative and engaging youth preparedness program to teens who will assist families and communities in a variety of locations throughout the state. This program, based on a national award-winning model developed and delivered in Mississippi through the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi Citizen Corps, enhances individual, family, and community preparedness for disasters, while at the same time, strengthening youth leadership, communication skills, teamwork, decision making, self-esteem, civic responsibility, and empowerment, along with family communication and cohesion. “One of the underlying missions of MyPI National is to reboot youth preparedness across this country, to capitalize on the energy of our teens, and to set the new standard for how we engage our teens in sustainable preparedness endeavors as we move forward in the face of a variety of threats and hazards that we continue to see on seemingly a daily basis, regardless of geographic location. From the large urban areas to the smaller rural towns, emergencies and disasters do not discriminate. We have seen fantastic success for several years in Mississippi and have now begun to see the same impact within our partners under the MyPI National umbrella. As our MyPI National team works with MyPI Alaska instructors, we will continue the process of fostering relationships and networks that will hopefully ensure the success of this program for years to come, which is yet another very achievable outcome and one that this great state and its citizens, families, and communities deserve,” said Dr. C. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director and MyPI Mississippi Program Coordinator.
Mississippi Citizen Corps State Program Manager and Lead Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Instructor for MyPI National, Dave Nichols, added, “Coming from Mississippi, we understand the concept and realities of being a predominately rural state. However, here in Alaska, being rural takes on a whole new meaning. In The Last Frontier, it can be hours before professional responders arrive, and it is a comforting thought knowing that we are empowering teens to not only take care of themselves, but family, friends, and neighbors until that help arrives. I hope to see Alaskans take full advantage of the opportunities that this great program provides them.”
MyPI Alaska is a component of the National Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI National, a partnership of 27 states and 3 US territories. MyPI National Phase 1 began by delivering the MyPI model to teenagers across Nebraska, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi. In September of 2017, MyPI National was awarded the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual and Community Preparedness national award for “Outstanding Achievement in Youth Preparedness.” Capitalizing on program success and momentum, MyPI National began a Phase 2 expansion of the program which enabled the inclusion of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and the first US territory to be represented, Guam. In 2018, in addition to winning FEMA’s national CERT award for “Preparing the Whole Community”, MyPI National received additional federal funding for a Phase 3 expansion that added Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and two more US territories to be represented, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Regarding Alaska, Akers stated, “Our MyPI National Coordination team has literally travelled to all corners of the nation with this project. This week, we were back in FEMA Region 10, where we have two other programs who share similar hazards and risks. I can confidently say that the MyPI Alaska instructors have displayed fantastic levels of passion, engagement, and motivation that is characteristic of our most productive partners. As a National training team, we always hope to entertain the level of discussions that clearly project the instructors are thinking long-term. That was certainly the case this week and I believe this program has quite a bright future. As the National Project Director, I can assert that this certainly makes administering this program and being a productive program incubator so much easier and more enjoyable when you have a cohesive unit that already has a vision for delivering MyPI. Alaska teens, families, and communities are in for a treat on multiple levels due to the work of these great professionals and preparedness advocates. Much like their colleagues across the nation, the instructors in Alaska truly exude a passion to change lives and to educate their communities, particularly their teens, through this program. It was indeed a pleasure for the MyPI National team to be here in this beautiful state. This initial cohort of instructors and Ron Swartz, the MyPI Alaska Program Manager, will prove to be a great asset for our overall program goals and will guide the state program with the motivation and zest that we have come to expect and that our program and stakeholders demand. We are excited about this great partnership with University of Alaska Anchorage Emergency Management, and look forward to seeing the program become a true statewide outreach campaign. It was quite clear among the National team members that once MyPI Alaska takes root, it will progress and flourish across the state in large part because of their efforts and dedication.”
Added Akers, “MyPI offers a tremendous, multi-faceted approach to youth preparedness with rich learning and leadership opportunities for teens and enhanced preparedness levels for families and communities. There is a definitive focus and energy necessary as we move into the next phase of MyPI Alaska, where the real work is done and the real impact is seen. On a personal and a professional level, I look forward to seeing these new instructors respond to the challenge and become the catalyst for positive change and impact across this state. It is clear from this week that the instructors have a strong passion for disaster education and preparedness, the development of their youth and safety of their families, and the livelihood of these communities, which is wonderful to see. We expect a positive impact for all involved and will continue to work with the instructors, the Program Manager, and community partners to ensure its success over the long-term.”
The MyPI model offers a flexible 5 to 10 week, three component program. In Component A, teenagers will complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency-certified CERT training and corresponding modules focusing on Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety and Utility Control, Disaster Medical Operations, Light Search and Rescue, CERT Organization, Disaster Psychology, and Terrorism and CERT. In Component B, the Add-On Catalog features certification opportunities in CPR and AED usage, along with a technology track comprised of awareness programs focusing on HAM Radio, NOAA Weather Radio, Smoke Alarm Maintenance, and Smart Phone App and Social Media in Emergency Preparedness. The Add-On Catalog also includes a disaster simulation, a School Safety program, an Extreme Weather Awareness program, and a Career Track that focuses on public safety, fire service, and emergency management careers. The final element of the program, Component C, includes a comprehensive family and community service project entitled PREP+6 in which each participant helps develop emergency supply kits and emergency communication plans for their family AND 6 additional families or households. This component allows for significant enhancement in individual, family, and community preparedness and resilience. To graduate from the program, students must complete all components.
George Keeney, Allied Health Coordinator and Faculty EMS Instructor at Prince William Sound College, believes that Alaska teens need and desire to be involved in a comprehensive program like MyPI in order to realize their potential. According to Keeney, “MyPI Alaska is a program that I am glad to be able to present to the resident of any community. Teaching teens about emergency preparedness will allow them to have ownership in their family’s plans and empower them to be involved that of their neighbors and extended family as well. I was very happy to be certified this week as an instructor and now have the ability to present this to our community youth. I have youth that will ask me all the time, ’how can I do more?’, well, this program is it. I’m am so excited to be able to tell the students about this program and see their eyes light up.”
Keeney strongly encourages students to take advantage of this beneficial program due to the plentiful opportunities to better their communities through the service component and the educational opportunities related to preparedness and resilience. Falon Harkins, an Associate Director with University of Anchorage Parking Services with a strong background in emergency services, agrees with Keeney. According to Harkins, “With Alaska’s current budget situation being at the very forefront of every Alaskan’s mind, it is more important than ever to prepare Alaska’s youth to handle emergencies their communities may face. One of the features of MyPI that attracted me to the program is its focus on personal responsibility in preparedness and the service back to the community through the PREP+6 service project. Preparing families and households for disaster is essential. Think our how many families are left without what they need when services are strained. If the student did nothing else but prepare seven households to be ready in the event of a city or state-wide emergency, the program would already be an astounding success. But MyPI is such a robust program, it offers much more than that for everyone involved.”
Scott Monroe, who serves as the Principal and Lead Instructor at the Alaska Youth Military Academy, is among the newly certified MyPI Alaska instructors and agrees with Harkins. “One of the keys to MyPI’s huge success is the fact that PREP+6 not only reinforces what the student has learned through the CERT training, but also serves as an additional training for the students through public speaking, critical thinking/planning, and social networking with these families in assisting them in creating their emergency supply kits and in developing their family communication plans. Doing so with their family and then six additional households truly speaks to the overall difference this program can offer. At AYMA, where we are initially focusing on graduating 40 MyPI students who will complete PREP+6, in addition to all the other requirements involved with MyPI, that means that in addition to those 40 families, there are an additional 240 households that will have been impacted and will have enhanced preparedness measures in their home. This is true impact that will have last effects on everyone involved.”
Monroe agrees and believes that MyPI Alaska’s engaging approach will certainly enhance individual, family, and community preparedness and youth leadership. According to Monroe, “Alaska is a great example of a state than has multitudes of areas in which people should be prepared for natural disasters. Add in the fact that Alaska has a vast geographical footprint and significant urban/rural divide with limited resources, such as roads and communication. It makes for unique opportunity for Alaska’s teens to be at the forefront of improving preparedness for themselves, but more importantly, passing this on to their families and their communities. There is no better option than our youth to carry this forward and lead Alaska into the future by being better prepared for what the future holds. This program will not only improve students’ awareness of emergency preparedness, but it will improve them as an individual who through networking, hard work, coursework, and hands-on application that will enable valuable skillsets benefitting the students and these communities.”
Monroe also encourages adults interested in mentoring and educating teens to become certified as a MyPI Instructor. Monroe added, “This program is certainly rewarding in its comprehensive nature in building a culture of youth preparedness and youth leadership, but it is also challenging…in a good way. Becoming a certified instructor indicates a desire to continuously improve instructional and mentoring skills as well as the ability to foster relationships and networks with local, state, and national professionals in the various fields of emergency preparedness. You will plentiful opportunities to impact lives and make a difference for future generations. If you are interested, I would strongly suggest contacting the MyPI Program Manager.”
The program not only relies on its trained instructor cohort, but it also enlists the assistance and advocacy of the first responder and emergency management community. Casey Cook, Emergency Manager for Matanuska-Susitna Borough, indicated that MyPI impacts emergency management and responder communities by leveraging an increase in resilience of the individual, the community, and the State and allows for those youth to witness and experience emergency services/first response agencies in a controlled setting over a short period of time. According to Cook, “MyPI will assist us in accessing one of the most influential and underutilized populations in our community…teens. These individuals will be able to take this training and information home, and based on family dynamics, instantly make themselves, their families, their neighborhoods and communities and State more prepared and resilient. When this happens in the family setting, the effects extrapolate to the nation by being one more prepared and resilient individual, family, community, and State, and helps reduce the immediate strain on the emergency response system to those areas. Every prepared and resilient individual and home is one fewer individual and home I may need to focus on during a disaster event.”
With regards to benefits to the communities and to the students, Cook added, “MyPI can assist first responders being able to get tangible information and assistance from MyPI-trained students, who can speak some of the same language, thus decreasing the stress on the system during responses by those agencies, who will know there are prepared and resilient homes in the affected areas. And for the students, the life skills they learn and exposure to these career options introduce these youth into career possibilities and opportunities to give back to their communities in fields that are historically difficult to enter without some previous experience, which can make first responder organizations stronger with more diverse life experiences.”
The partners in MyPI National are replicating the model created and delivered in Mississippi. In 2014, the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative was named FEMA’s national award winner for Outstanding Youth Preparedness program. It also received an Honorable Mention recognition for “Preparing the Whole Community.” In 2015, MyPI Mississippi was named one of the first entities to be named an official Affirmer of the new National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education. As such, MyPI is an engaged and recognized component of a nationally supported, progressive approach to preparing youth for emergencies and disasters. MyPI National is also recognized as an Affirmer of the national strategy.
For additional information regarding MyPI Alaska, including areas of the state that the program will be delivered initially, please visit the MyPI Alaska website at http://mypialaska.org or contact Ron Swartz, MyPI Alaska Program Manager at email@example.com or 907.786.1149. For more information regarding MyPI National, please visit the MyPI National website at http://mypinational.extension.msstate.edu or contact Dr. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662.325.5914. You may also reference both projects on social media platforms. Facebook profiles can be found by searching “My PI Alaska” and “My PI National” respectively, and Twitter feeds can be found by searching “@MyPI_AK” and “@MyPI_National”.