By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Training in the Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program has equipped 16 Regina Catholic Education Center students with the knowledge and skills to assist faculty and school administrators in responding to emergency situations.
The students were among the first groups of Iowa teenagers to participate in this training and receive hands-on practice to respond to a variety of scenarios. The program “educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website states. The program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Andy Cutter, chairperson of the Regina Board of Education, helped bring the program to Regina in collaboration with the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). As a volunteer program coordinator for Johnson County EMA, he viewed Regina’s unique pre-k through high school facility as the perfect place to host a Teen CERT program. Regina worked with the EMA a few years ago to create a disaster plan and train staff members. With so many younger students on campus, “the more individuals trained to assist in (disaster) scenarios, the better,” he said.
The 16 sophomore through senior students participated in the 20-hour training last fall. Some who chose to participate aspire to work in medicine, law enforcement and other areas. “This is really relevant” to their career aspirations, Cutter said.
EMA Deputy Director Travis Beckman coordinated the training at Regina, which took place weekly from Sept. 22 to Nov. 5. Regina’s block scheduling made it easy for students to sign up and participate without missing other classes, Cutter said. Students received hands-on training from local experts, including Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). They learned about scene assessment, fire safety, emergency medical response, team organization, light search and rescue and other skills.
Beckman tailored the course to address local threats. “We have focused much of our scenario-based training around events such as tornadoes, flooding and high wind events like a derecho, which they have all now experienced first hand after last year’s storm.”
If an emergency occurs at Regina, administrators may call on the CERT-trained students to offer assistance until professionals arrive. Trained administrators and staff members remain the primary helpers in a disaster situation. “All of these skills are really lifelong skills that can be used anywhere, skills you can use in your own household, neighborhood and workplace,” Cutter said. The students “will be able to assist wherever they are.”
“Our students are being trained in first aid, CPR, disaster preparedness, FEMA’s national incident management system, using a fire extinguisher and much more,” said Lynne Zoulek, Regina Jr/Sr High counselor and Teen CERT advisor. Laurie Boland, Regina Jr/Sr High health, physical education and religion teacher, also serves as a Teen CERT advisor. She said partnering with Johnson County EMA “is a great way for students to learn about the many roles and volunteers needed in crisis management at all levels. Giving students hands-on practice and talking through real-life scenarios will allow them to step in and help in the event of an emergency situation at school or within the community. We are very fortunate to have organizations willing to offer these types of learning opportunities to our students and appreciate the work they put in to make this a success.”
Senior Caden Shetler said he accepted a teacher’s invitation to participate in the training. “She explained what it was and how it would be the first in Iowa and I thought it would be interesting.” He is part of a four-member team that will receive an assignment from the Teen CERT advisors when an incident occurs. His hands-on experience included making splints, wrapping wounds and learning how to carry people. He especially liked using a fire extinguisher on a real fire.
Sophomore Catherine Klitgaard participated in the Teen CERT training for the opportunity to “learn many beneficial skills that will allow me to help others in the future as well as allow me to grow as a leader.” She said she now is prepared to take a leadership role “if there is ever any kind of emergency situation at Regina (e.g., fires, tornadoes) where the staff may need help managing in order to keep people safe. If necessary, I am also able to do basic first aid.”
Catherine believes her training is beneficial in and outside the school setting. She knows how to handle an event calmly and effectively until first responders get to the scene. “I feel that the things that I learned through the Teen CERT Program will help me throughout my life.”