Today, I spoke to two of the three classes taking the first ever class on Disaster Readiness at Westwood High School. Each class lasted 90 minutes, so I got to spend a fair amount of time with the students.
Each class has about 20 kids, most of whom are upper classmen. Their teacher is a registered nurse with an interest in preparedness as well.
I started by asking the kids why they chose to take that particular class. Answers were not really forthcoming (remember, these are teenagers and it was a Monday morning.) After I had them empty their pockets and backpacks of any items that might be helpful in an emergency, I gave the most prepared student $10 cash. At that point, it was easier to maintain their attention for the rest of the class.
For the first few minutes, I drove home some basic overall concepts about preparedness:
After the more holistic discussion of preparedness, I led the students through a table top exercise. They were divided into groups of four or five, and each group selected a team name and a spokesperson. I gave them a rather difficult scenario: their field trip bus ran off the road in a rural part of the state, late at night, with 40 students, three parents and two teachers, landing on its right side. Students then had to work the problem, addressing new facts and problems as they were doled out over time.
One of the more interesting observations was that the kids were not hesitant to make decisions with imperfect information. When I've led adults in the corporate world through similar exercises, I regularly get the response that "I can't make a decision because I don't have all the facts." Working in the disaster response environment means you are making lots of decisions without all of the facts. That didn't seem to bother the students today.
I was surprised at how well the students in the class intuitively knew what to do: prioritizing, using those with emergency skills to do the complex tasks while assigning simpler tasks to others on the bus who were not injured, assigning other adults to deal with the inconsolable mom that was on the field trip. One of the challenges we discussed was how to interact with adults who might not realize these young responders have more training and skills than the average adult.
I will do one more presentation to the third class of students taking the course later this week. And then on Friday, I will help lay out a vision for the Webb School Preparedness Initiative at the school's upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. This is something that I've worked on for about five years; I'm glad to see how much positive response it's getting right now.
I spend a fair amount of time in Pivot Points discussing the need to train young people in disaster readiness and response. This is essential in building a culture of preparedness. I hope you will consider you own effort to help support preparedness initiatives for our kids.
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