When disaster strikes: Tribal Teen CERT prepares youth for emergencies

By Kalvin Valdilez, Tulalip News

“HELP!” cried a woman’s voice coming from the Tulalip Youth Council room. “The building’s collapsing, we have people in here. We need help.”

Springing into action like superheroes, fifteen local teenagers unzipped green backpacks which read Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) across the front. Withdrawing vests, gloves, hard hats and goggles, the youth quickly put on their protective gear before assembling near the entrance of the building. Together, the team elected Youth Council member, Jonathan “JD” Rinker, to take lead. 

After JD instructed two people to set up a triage area, he called upon one of his peers to help him conduct a quick visual walkthrough of the building. Upon returning, JD reported the estimated amount of people trapped in the building and their injuries, as well as the amount of damage inside the Youth Council chambers.

“Some of the injuries include a person with a bolt jammed in his leg. People have open wounds and large cuts on their arms and faces, some are trapped underneath tables and desks and their legs are tangled up in chairs.”

The teens paired up into twos and entered the room. Tending to the wounded who needed immediate assistance first, the teams carried, walked and wheeled the injured one-by-one outdoors to safety. Although this was only a drill, the group of young adults took the disaster simulation very seriously, treating the situation as though it was happening in real time and evacuating the building safely, cautiously and in a timely manner. 

“My role was to send my team in and get those people help when the building began to collapse after an earthquake,” JD stated. “But first we had to make sure the area was safe for us. As soon as we got everyone out, we helped stop the bleeding on several individuals, we tended to people’s ailments and we placed them in these designated areas categorized by color. Green is minor injuries, yellow’s non-life-threatening injuries, red is life threatening and black is deceased. During the process, I helped arrange who went to which group and assessed what types of injuries they had. And when the first responders arrived, I gave them a full report and the status of each person.”

Teen CERT returned to Tulalip for its second year during the week of August 12-16. Hosted by the Tulalip Office of Emergency Management, the trainings provide local youth with the knowledge of how to be best prepared when disaster strikes, learning safety skills to assist the elders, youth and injured adults of the community while first responders are on the way. 

Last year, Tulalip became the first tribe nationwide to offer Teen CERT to a reservation-based community. Teaming up with Youth Services and Critical Ops LLC., Emergency Management brought the preparedness training to the community to ensure safety when natural disasters or extreme weather occurs in the area. 

“To my knowledge, we’re the only tribe that is doing tribal Teen CERT on an annual basis,” said Ashlynn Danielson, Tulalip Emergency Preparedness Manager. “We hope to continue receiving our funding to provide this training once a year, every summer. This year everything was interactive-based, everything we did as teams or pairs. And we had more upbeat energy, the kids were participating right out the gate. We had a good mixture of ages. The younger ones could turn to the older students and get direction, to have someone engage initiative. Before they started the disaster simulation, we staged everybody and established our role players. We used earthquake because we recently had an earthquake, and that’s something that is a no notice event that can happen to our area regularly.”

Every late fall and throughout the winter, windstorms are a regular occurrence, causing power outages and property damage throughout Tulalip. This past winter, Washington State experienced a snow storm unlike any other. Some areas saw upwards of a foot of snow, breaking local snowfall records over the month-long blizzard. On the Tulalip reservation specifically, community members hunkered down as many people couldn’t leave their driveways and didn’t want to risk driving in the heavy snow. In many cases, during wind and snow storms, the only road leading out of Tulalip is often blocked by fallen trees and powerlines. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climate change is the main contributing factor to natural disasters. As the earth’s atmosphere continues to heat up, the world will experience disasters, such as last year’s hurricanes along the east coast and the wildfires on the west coast, more frequently and at a larger magnitude. In 2018, the United States had sixteen extreme disasters, totaling a record $306 billion in damages and 355 fatalities.

“We’re located far away from the hospitals, far from help,” expressed JD. “We need to be able to help our own people in any way we can, until the first responders get here. It was exciting. It’s important for the youth to be involved. In case a disaster or if anything happens, everyone should have an idea of what to do and how to help.”

Throughout the week, the youth were taught how to react and respond in emergency situations, practicing everything from fire safety, medical operation and triage, team organization, utility control, damage assessment, and search and rescue. 

“We broke the days up by themes,” said Critical Ops Trainer, Chelsea Treboniak. “The first day we focused on home and personal preparedness. We looked at what a bugout bag is, how to look at your surrounding environment and understand what you might need in case of an emergency. The next day we got a bit more broad in nature and attacked fire at large. We went over what a fire extinguisher is and how to use it, and we practiced skills with the fire department. We talked medical operations, everything from search and rescue to how to leverage and crib to rescue someone who’s stuck. And, also how to treat, triage and set up a causality collection point. Which brought it all to the disaster simulation where they got to put all those skills into practice.”

The teens were visited by a number of guests during the five-day training including the Tulalip Bay Fire Department and members of the Everett Fire Department, as well as local search and rescue dogs. 

“The dogs were well-trained and they help people out,” said Teen CERT alum Quintin Yon-Wagner. “They help retrieve different items, find people and they are a great comforting companion especially during disasters or after traumatizing events.”

Quintin returned this year to assist with Teen CERT, offering his insight and encouraging his peers during the hands-on training. 

“There are certainly times where I had to use my CERT training in real life scenarios,” he stated. “Just today, a kid hurt himself on the field and I was able to help him out. A lot of kids don’t want to come out and spend their summer learning, but you can use this training in real life and you get certified. I encourage kids to bring their friends next year and treat it as a social event, it’s super fun to learn about things you probably never heard of, or never will, in school. It’s a whole different perspective on how to help and give back to your community. When disaster strikes, we need people to step up because the first responders aren’t necessarily going to be nearby.” 

After spending a week at the Youth Council room learning how to be properly prepared for disaster, the teens joined their younger peers who were concluding their time at Lushootseed Language Camp with a performance. In front of a gym full of language warriors and supportive community members, the Teens received their CERT certifications on the morning of August 16. To commemorate the moment and congratulate the teens, the young Lushootseed campers offered a traditional song to the CERT graduates. 

“This year was a success,” expressed Ashlynn. “Throughout the week they learned how to work as a team. They now have some tools and skills and are able to help. Every year we are getting more student involvement, interest and participation. I hope their main take away is to share this with their families, that way they’ll be more prepared individually and know that they are a just as important as everyone else and can play a big role in saving people’s lives.”

The Tulalip Office of Emergency Management will continue hosting their regularly scheduled CERT trainings, the next one held this upcoming fall. To stay updated on the latest storm information in the Tulalip area, text the word ‘STORM’ to 30644 for text alerts regarding inclement weather, road closures and more. 

Teen CERT prepares youth for disaster, teaches cultural resiliency

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Treboniak, CriticalOps-Simplify Your Life

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

The first ever tribal Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training was held in Tulalip during the week of July 16-20. The Tulalip Office of Emergency Management reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Institute (FEMA), Critical Ops and Tulalip Youth Services to bring the trainings to the community. Teen CERT teaches the younger generation how to be adequately prepared for when a disaster strikes so they can help assist the elders, children, injured adults and expectant mothers while the professionals make their way to the reservation. Forty young adults attended the week-long training, thirty-four participants from Tulalip as well as six participants from the Quinault Indian Nation. 

As the saying goes, disaster is waiting to happen. Around the globe people are experiencing natural disasters at an alarming rate such as wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and a variety of storms (rain, wind, snow, thunder). In fact, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund, many of these occurrences are happening due to climate change caused by mankind and shouldn’t be considered ‘natural’ disasters at all. In the United States alone, three hundred and sixty-two deaths were attributed to extreme weather and climate disasters in 2017. Over the past few years, the state of Washington has also seen its fair share of climate disasters including the Oso landslide, springtime snow storms, summertime wildfires and the fall/winter windstorms. 

“When the windstorms come in September, October, November and trees topple over, we are disconnected from Marysville and other neighboring cities,” says Ashlynn Danielson, Tulalip Emergency Preparedness Manager. “We have a few ideas of how to create access, move brush and trees off the road but in the meantime we want to self-preserve and have a shelter in place. FEMA has not provided onsite trainers in Indian Country for a Teen CERT. Tribal Teen CERT has been asked about but has not been a project of this scale. We are kind of the showcase piece which makes everything very exciting.” 

Teen CERT is offered to youth across the nation in a number of communities and teaches students how to react and respond in emergency situations. The trainings cover everything from fire safety, medical operation and triage, team organization, utility control, damage assessment as well as search and rescue. 

“Just the thought of being there for my community in a time of need seems something like I could be really good at because I want to help,” expresses young Tulalip tribal member, Evalea Cortez. “I love learning something new. Eventually our parents and all the adults won’t be around forever and if there’s a disaster they’ll be busy helping out others so why not get the training to help them out. I feel like CERT really shows how important it is to be involved with your community and look out for each other.” 

The kids had a blast throughout the week and learned how to properly suppress small fires using an extinguisher and participated in an earthquake emergency drill. The Greg Williams Court appeared to be turned upside after a big quake. A few students were given roles and had to act as though they were at the gym when the earthquake occurred which resulted in a certain injury. The other CERT trainees waited outside and entered the gym after the earthquake and it was their job to correctly assess their classmate’s injuries and treat any immediate lesions until the medical and emergency response teams arrived. The students had also learned how to apply makeup to make it look as though they had a number of injuries, such as cuts and bruises. Kids then learned how to inspect their neighborhoods for extensive damage and how to fill out full detailed reports for the proper authorities.

The Tulalip Office of Emergency Management offers CERT Trainings twice a year to the adults of the community. CERT trainings are highly interactive and require over twenty hours of class participation. Because Teen CERT required forty participants, Tulalip reached out to other tribes to complete their enrollment requirement. Six members of the Quinault Indian Nation accepted Tulalip’s invitation and journeyed north for a week of fun, hands-on safety experience.

“I thought it would be interesting to learn about the first response trainings and get certified for CERT,” says Quinault member, Johnny Law. “I think it’s important because it helps you feel more attached to the land, to our land, and know how to take care of it and our people when a disaster happens. I hope to bring a better understanding to where I’m from just in case there’s an earthquake or tsunami because that would devastate everything down there.”

Tulalip also incorporated another training within the CERT classes that focused on cultural resiliency, teaching the kids the importance of traditional and family values. Jay LaPlante, FEMA Tribal Relation Specialist taught the kids about the medicine wheel and the importance of self-care and community involvement.

“CERT itself is a three-day training and focuses on emergency response,” says Jay. “The reason I added the two-day cultural resiliency wellness training is because our people learn best when we have some type of relationship established. This training helps break down barriers, get to know themselves a little better and get centered with their own values. We always try to connect what we do today with what our ancestors wanted for us and also with the future generations. So we want to make sure these young people know that their ancestors were thinking about them hundreds of years ago so they can connect with what their ancestors wanted and live by those values.”

“We learned about the medicine wheel today,” states Tulalip tribal member, Kaiser Moses. “So that’s spiritual, mental, physical and emotional and that’s really important to factor into your daily life. They teach you fundamental things like how to take care of yourself and your neighbors. I signed up for CERT because I want to learn how to react in an emergency. I feel like after this training, I’ll be more prepared in the event of an emergency and that’s really reassuring.”

All forty students completed the trainings and are now certified CERT members. The Tulalip Office Emergency Management hopes to continue to offer Teen CERT after a successful first year and inspire other tribes to bring the trainings to the youth of their communities. 

“As Native people we are very resilient, very community based and likeminded,” says Ashlynn. “The importance of bringing Teen CERT and the cultural resiliency trainings to the reservation is because it helps us self-identify with our culture. Ultimately, we want them to be able to provide for each other and their families and know where to go in the event of an emergency and how to get to those critical supplies. At the end of the day, our end goal is that we can take all of our information and replicate it for other tribes and help all of the tribal nations become more resilient.”

The Tulalip Office of Emergency Management will continue hosting their regularly scheduled CERT trainings, the next one held this upcoming fall.  For further details, please contact the Office of Emergency Management at (360) 716-4006.