Emergency preparedness program for youth takes root in California

Dec 20, 2023

Emergency preparedness program for youth takes root in California

Dec 20, 2023

4-H leaders, youth complete state's first MyPI instructor certification workshop in Tehama County

Disasters do not discriminate. They can impact people regardless of their race, color, creed, socioeconomic status – or age. That's why a nationwide effort to train young people in emergency preparedness continues to grow and is establishing itself in California.

The national MyPI (Preparedness Initiative) program, developed by Mississippi State University Extension, partnered with California 4-H this fall to train the state's first cohort of instructors, who will then lead trainings for young people in the coming months. With Northern California as the catalyst, organizers plan to spread the program across the state, said Nate Caeton, 4-H youth development advisor for Shasta, Tehama and Trinity counties.

“If you look at the research, everybody is affected by disasters, but young people even more so, for a number of reasons – whether because they don't fully understand what's going on, or they don't have the same experience or skill sets as adults,” said Caeton, who serves as the MyPI California manager. “But this takes a huge leap in addressing that.”

California is the 28th state/territory-level program to partner with the national MyPI team to train instructors – but the first to allow young people to participate in the three-day instructor workshop.

Of the 11 4-H-affiliated participants who completed the October training in Red Bluff, five were teenagers. The workshop, led by national MyPI trainers, included comprehensive Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) content developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA – covering medical operations, fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster psychology and more.

“By the end of day 1, the trainers were already commenting on the maturity level of the teens who had attended,” Caeton said. “They've been doing this training for a long time and they were definitely impressed – that says a lot about our young people.”

Potential disasters necessitate preparation by all

Bodie, a ninth grader in Shasta County, said the MyPI California workshop gave him a new perspective on his father's role and responsibilities as a CAL FIRE battalion chief.

“It was a great class, a great experience,” said Bodie, who participated in the training with his two brothers. “It was a 30-hour-long class – really long, but really fun; there was a lot of hands-on learning.”

Katy Zulliger, Bodie's mother, also attained instructor certification through the workshop. She said that, in their city of Redding and communities across the region, there remains considerable trauma from the devastating fires of 2018 – the Carr Fire and Camp Fire. Zulliger said that educating and preparing the public – including youth – will be crucial in meeting future challenges.

“There's a lot that can happen around here – from earthquakes to fire to flood to mudslides, and the list goes on and on…even, living on I-5, potentially tanker trucks spilling over,” she explained. “It's smart for the kids to learn how to think outside the box.”

Bodie noted that the workshop has made him more aware of his surroundings and potential contingency plans.

“When I'm out in the town, I really do think about what can happen in different scenarios – for example, maybe an earthquake or active shooter situation – and I ask myself, ‘What would I do? How would I respond?'” said Bodie, who is considering a career as a first responder.

Youth have a voice, role in boosting community resilience

The skills and knowledge gained from the MyPI program can equip young people to be leaders among their peers, and even in the broader community, when emergencies arise.

“Kids can actually use this and be engaged – instead of just being a watcher or video taker,” said Zulliger, a 4-H volunteer who has served as a club leader of the Palo Cedro 4-H club. “They have a voice and they can use it positively.”

Her sons – and the other two teens who completed the workshop – will help adult instructors organize and deliver the 10- to 12-week MyPI training to young people in their communities. As part of the program, tentatively slated to begin in Northern California by summer 2024, youth participants will be required to work with their families to create an emergency communications plan, assemble a disaster kit, and reach out to six other households to make similar preparations.

“This gives them some ownership over their own personal preparedness and the preparedness of their family and those they are closest to,” Caeton explained.

By partnering with schools, 4-H clubs and community groups, Caeton said the goal is to deliver the program to 125 young people, across five Northern California counties, by summer 2025 – before expanding participation across the state.

“I'm hoping it spreads like wildflowers, because it's definitely needed,” Zulliger said.