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Course equips teens to do good, save lives when disaster strikes

January 25, 2018 GMT

Pennington County is looking for teenagers who are ready to take on disasters.

“You can hear a lot about preparedness, but until you put it into action and do hands-on training, you’re probably not going to remember it or even feel like it’s important,” Alexa White, deputy director for Pennington County Emergency Management said. “If there was some type of school incident like an active shooter, a lot of times there’s a very short window when you could save somebody’s life.”

That’s part of the reason Pennington County Community Emergency Management Teams and Parnership Rapid City are sponsoring Teen CERT classes. The five-week course teaches teenagers how to proactively help when a disaster occurs in their homes, schools or community. The next session begins Monday, Feb. 5, for students in grades 10, 11 and 12.

Teen CERT covers fire safety, medical triage training to set up treatment areas and help those who are injured, light search-and-rescue skills, assisting responders and learning to reduce survivors’ stress. Especially in a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical aid may be unable to meet the demand for their services. Teen CERT helps kids understand when it’s prudent or safe to help, and when the best course of action might be to take notes and provide information to responders, White said.

“If something were to happen and you want to help those around you, what this program does is it trains you on how to do the greatest good for the greatest number (of people),” White said. “Teens could save somebody’s life because they went through the class.”

Firefighters, paramedics, search-and-rescue team members and others who work as responders in the Black Hills teach the CERT course. “They’re people who have real-life experiences to share. That makes it more realistic for the kids,” White said.

Every Teen CERT course concludes with a simulated disaster, such as a traffic accident or an incident in school that teens might actually encounter. The teens assist volunteer “victims,” who are bandaged or made up to look bloody and wounded. “There’s people making a lot of racket and screaming. ... There could be a mom looking for a kid or somebody asking for somebody who turns out to be a pet,” White said. “The teens have to organize themselves into a team and designate a leader ... and figure things out on their own. ... It helps teens to see this is how it could really be (in an actual disaster).”

The simulated disasters often turn out to be teens’ favorite part of the class. Some say they feel more prepared for life beyond school — including one teen who was in a car accident six months after completing Teen CERT and was able to help an injured friend, White said.

Parents are welcome to observe Teen CERT to learn more about the course, White said. Teen CERT Classes are offered twice a year in Pennington County; the course will be offered again this fall. Pennington County also offers adult CERT classes; the next one begins in April and contains the same content as the Teen CERT course, White said. The CERT training was created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

By offering CERT classes strictly for teens, kids learn to have confidence in crisis situations, White said. “The idea is to teach teens they can do a lot. ... They just need the training to do it,” she said. “They are part of the solution.”