Teenagers in Union County will soon have the chance to play a role in community preparedness and resilience.
A new federally funded emergency preparedness class for youths age 13 to 19 will be offered free in April and May in La Grande. Part of the national My Preparedness Initiative (MyPI), the Oregon Youth Preparedness Initiative program is coordinated by Oregon State University.
"This could be the start of something really special," said Lou Gerber of La Grande, who will co-instruct the class with his wife, Robin, and hopes the class will be continued after this year in Union County.
Lou is a retired National Guardsman who served as a combat medic during a deployment to Iraq about 15 years ago and is an experienced CPR and first aid instructor. Robin is a longtime 4-H leader in Union County. The couple received extensive training on teaching the course from the Oregon Youth Preparedness Initiative program.
Robin Gerber said the class will provide an enormous boost in the event that there is an emergency.
"If there is a major disaster, we will have many youths who are trained to assist," she said.
Students taking the class will learn how to extinguish small fires, conduct light search and rescue operations, set up medical treatment areas, assist emergency responders, identify hazards, reduce fire hazards in the home and workplace, help reduce survivor stress, assist with crowd control, assist with evacuations and more.
Teens will have the chance to earn certifications in CPR, first aid and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community Emergency Response Team search training. Robin Gerber said these certifications will open doors for teens interested in pursuing careers as emergency responders.
"There are a lot ways (the skills taught in the class) can fit into the life of a young person," she said.
This is the first year Oregon Youth Preparedness Initiative classes are being taught, and Union County is the only Eastern Oregon county taking part in the program.
Other counties where the class will be taught include Curry County, where Ruth Dixon, a certified MyPI instructor, who also serves as a 4-H Educational Program assistant, will teach the course. Dixon believes it is important to include young people in disaster training.
"Our teens are capable of so much more than they are given credit for. We often neglect to include teens in disaster preparedness, and we tend to overlook the fact that they have energy and vision that adults sometimes lack," she said.