A key partnership in Alaska brings Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to at-risk youth.
Michelle Torres’ desire to teach Alaskan youth how to prepare for disasters led her to a new partner, the Alaska Military Youth Academy (AMYA). It now offers Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to its teenage cadets.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to engage our youth,” said Torres, State Outreach Coordinator for the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “I think they are an untapped resource that are often overlooked.”
Torres found CERT to be a great way to provide an essential skill set to Alaskan teens. With many remote areas in the state, the travel expenses to deliver training pose a challenge. She found the perfect solution. Her agency falls under the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which also houses the AMYA. The program educates cadets to bring their new life saving skills back home to these remote areas.
“Some of these kids come from very remote areas,” she said. “When we have them in the program, it’s an opportunity for them to learn a skill. What they learn, they can take to college or any other community that they go to.”
The AMYA serves 16 to 18 year-olds who left high school without receiving a diploma. The program focuses on helping them achieve their high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED).
This quasi-military program spans more than 17 months. It teaches academics and life skills with an emphasis on community service, responsibility, and leadership. The cadets spend about six months on base. The remainder of the time is spent in high school or working toward their GED.
Beginning in December 2016, Torres teamed up with the AMYA to train 25 cadets in a pilot CERT program.
The cadets loved their CERT training so much that she accepted 100 students for a second cycle. Over the course of 16 weeks, Torres taught four classes. She also partnered with other state agencies to help deliver the training. For the fire safety unit, she collaborated with a fire inspector from the Division of Fire Life Safety. For the medical unit, she teamed up with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Cadets receive school credit toward their Life Coping Skills requirement when they complete their CERT training.
“The cadets that complete the CERT training may go back to a community that doesn’t have a CERT program,” said Torres. “But that’s ok because they can share the skills they’ve learned with their family and community in the event of a disaster.”
Torres continues to push the program further and create a culture of prepared youth. After receiving positive feedback from the roughly 300 cadets trained in CERT thus far, the AMYA now wants all their cadets to participate. To address this ambitious request, Torres worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10 to conduct a CERT train-the-trainer course February 6-8, 2018 in Wasilla, AK. Staff from the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management signed up, as well as the AMYA instructors and volunteer members of the Alaska Defense Force. Now, these instructors hope to deliver CERT to every cadet who comes through the door.
“It is amazing,” Torres said, “to watch the kids from the beginning of the program to when they graduate.”
Torres attributes her ability to grow the CERT training program to strong partnerships. She works with state agencies, emergency preparedness stakeholders, and subject matter experts.
“A lot of jurisdictions are struggling economically right now,” said Torres. “This was a way we could collaborate as state agencies, share resources, and build resiliency among our Alaskan people.”
With such a successful partnership, Torres remains optimistic about the CERT-trained cadets. Quite a few of them expressed an interest in emergency service type work, such as firefighting, emergency management, and search and rescue. No matter what career path they choose, she wants them to understand how they can apply the skills they learned to different cultures, jobs, future volunteer work, and community service.
Torres will continue using CERT to create a culture of preparedness among the youth, one cadet at a time.
“Youth have so much potential,” said Torres. “They are gung-ho to learn. And they want to help, especially when you can put it into terms they can understand, like helping their neighborhood, their church, or their peers.”
Visit the Alaska Military Youth Academy to learn more about the cadets.