Youth Educated in CERT Mock Disasters

Fifth grader Trent Boothby was covered in blood and groaning in pain. His classroom at Maria Montessori Charter Academy had just been leveled by an F3 tornado, or at least that was the presented mock disaster during a Wednesday morning exercise.

The elementary- and middle-school aged students of MMCA, in the Northern California community of Rocklin, quickly realized it’s never too early to be prepared for an emergency.

Approximately 100 student victims and about 35 student rescuers, shadowed by paramedics and EMTs and parent volunteers, participated in a training exercise for recovery and response related to a mock F3 tornado.

Boothby’s left leg, which was a plastic Halloween prop, was amputated and the rest of his classmates were injured. First responders, also fellow classmates, rushed into each classroom, assessed the damage and transported injured patients to a nearby triage area.

Boothby said the exercise felt like a real-life disaster.

“I lost my foot and they had to blanket-lift me,” he said. “Some of the injuries seemed so real.”

Teen Cert 2016 2

Kiera Catubig-Hess, in the same fifth-grade class as Boothby, was tagged as “deceased” for the mock disaster. Afterwards, she was appreciative of the training.

“We’re lucky that this incident didn’t really happen here,” Catubig-Hess said.

The MMCA Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Mock Disaster started with moulage, or mock injury art, at 7:30 a.m., and then victim placement.

The mock disaster promptly drilled at 9:09 with an announcement over the public address system, “The mock disaster has begun.” The entire exercise lasted about an hour, followed by a 15-minute victim debriefing where incident command and the Public Information Officer spoke to students and answered questions.

“My first impression is I’m glad they’re starting kids this young,” said American Medical Response EMT/Paramedic Cameron Colaco, who oversaw the mock first responders during the response phase. “I think it’s very age appropriate. I saw natural leadership ability. Whatever they needed to get done, they got done. I was very impressed.”

Parent volunteers applied full moulage in the morning and played the role of distressed parents during the mock disaster.

“The toughest part was taking care of the parents,” said eighth-grader Ashlyn Thorpe, the mock disaster’s PIO. “They were very convincing.”

About halfway into the exercise, with injured students sprawled across three different colored tarps designated based on injury severity, distraught parents had to be consoled and restrained.

Grandparent Cathie Raines, one of the volunteers, was impressed with how the students reacted to the disaster and settled into serious roles.

“Isn’t this great?” she asked. “The kids really did a good job. It was fun. I think they really learned a lot.”

Knowing how to react and respond in a time of crisis allow educators and students to be prepared in the event of a disaster. Whether in day care, K-12 or a college/university, school emergency preparedness efforts and emergency plans help to keep students and staff safe.

Cal OES provides additional safety preparedness information for schools and educators.

Teen Cert 2016

FEMA’s Teen CERT program teaches the following:

  • – Hazards in all communities
  • – Readiness and response skills
  • – How teens can help others in the event of a disaster with hands-on practice and realistic exercises
  • – How teens can be leaders that could empower them to safely respond to an emergency and assist victims without endangering themselves or others

More on the FEMA’s Teen CERT program can be found here.

“We have a lot of fun with this event and try to make it as realistic as possible for our Teen CERTs,” said Laura Crouch, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at MMCA as well as the seventh and eighth grade Teen CERT Coordinator and Instructor. “They take it serious but they also get a lot out of it.”

Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the 2017 October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) wildfires, the Camp Fire in 2018, the 2020 statewide fire siege, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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