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California City Solutions: Teen CERT Program in Long Beach Builds Career Paths

January 9, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Long Beach’s Teen CERT program was submitted in 2014 for the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government award category.LB-Teen-CERT-classroom.jpg

The city of Long Beach’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) serves as an important volunteer source as well as an indispensable resource when disaster strikes. However, the number of active CERT team members had been declining by early this decade and Long Beach wanted to revitalize the program. When the Long Beach Fire Department proposed creating a new Teen CERT program to the school district it seemed like a win-win. Students could build community relationships while explore possible career opportunities.    
LB-Teen-CERT-Disaster-Training.jpgLong Beach’s population of 462,000 makes it California's seventh largest city. Located on the southern coast of Los Angeles County, the city is a center for aerospace, petroleum, shipping and tourism, along with a wide variety of office and retail opportunities. The downtown alone is home to more than 4.2 million square feet of commercial office space. The Port of Long Beach is one of the world's busiest container cargo ports, handling approximately 6.1 million twenty-foot-long containers carrying approximately 75 million metric tons of cargo each year.
Due to its location, physical attributes, and its commercial assets, Long Beach is at risk for natural, man-made, and technological types of disasters. The city sits on the Newport-Inglewood Fault, which is capable of a 6.0 to 7.4 magnitude earthquake. With the Port of Long Beach, Long Beach Airport, and miles of natural gas and oil pipelines, acts of terrorism and/or large catastrophic accidents present additional challenges. Long Beach maintains a strong volunteer corps to enhance the city’s capacity and capabilities to prepare, respond, recover, and mitigate disasters. One important source of volunteers is the Long Beach CERT. After being established in 1997, city’s CERT program has trained more than 3,000 residents with the active team members numbering approximately 1,000.LB-Teen-CERT-fire-training.jpg
The city saw potential for new volunteers among the community’s young adults, however knew that they needed to find a way to engage them in community involvement. This would increase the number of available trained volunteers and greatly enhance the community’s resilience as the young adults continued to forward their training and commitment to the community into adulthood.
LB-Teen-CERT-in-pipe.jpgIn March 2013, the Long Beach Fire Department and key CERT volunteers suggested creating a Teen CERT program to the Long Beach Unified School District. The superintendent showed interest and requested a meeting with the administrators of Long Beach Polytechnic (Poly) High School in May 2013. Plans were made to develop a program that would begin in the 2013-14 school year.
The Fire Department researched CERT programs geared specifically to young adults and found that a number of local governments across the nation, including the city of Los Angeles, had already designed and implemented youth programs. After learning about the challenges Los Angeles had in maintaining their program, Long Beach decided that a Teen CERT program should do more than just train disaster workers. The program’s focus should be on encouraging and enabling the young participants to develop lifelong relationships with their community, and be exposed to possible career paths, not just in public safety, but also in other aspects of community service.
To build the type of program they had envisioned, the fire department partnered with the Long Beach Unified School District and Poly High School, Long Beach Transit, the police department, CERT Volunteers, and parents of students. The class would be supported financially by the Long Beach Fire Department, Friends of Long Beach Firefighters, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and Poly High School.
Shortly after the start of the 2013-14 school year a working group comprised of representatives from the partnering groups developed the Teen CERT program. The program follows the basic curriculum of the regular CERT program, which provides students with valuable tools to support their community during disasters and other events.
The training modules included:LB-Teen-CERT-teamwork.jpgLB-Teen-CERT-grad-line-up.jpg
  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Fire Safety and Utility Controls
  • Disaster Medical Operations
  • Light Search and Rescue
  • CERT Organization
  • Disaster Psychology
  • Terrorism and CERT
  • Final Exam and Disaster Simulation
LB-Teen-Cert-podium.jpgWhile the modules were similar to the adult modules in content, they were adapted to match the skills, physical capabilities, confidence levels, and attention spans of young adults. Additionally, the program was designed to accommodate the students’ time schedules and transportation needs, requiring eight sessions during a three-month period, totaling approximately 30 hours. Participation in the program would fulfill a student’s community service requirement for graduation.
Once the program was designed and scheduled, Long Beach firefighters set up a recruitment booth for the upcoming Teen CERT class at Poly High School’s Club Day in late September. With the assistance of school staff, the recruitment drive attracted a great deal of interest. Ultimately Poly High School staff handpicked 42 to participate in the pilot program. A Teen CERT orientation was held for interested parents on Back to School Night two weeks later.
The first training session took place at Poly High School on Oct. 9, 2013. All of the sessions occurred after regular school hours on the Poly High School campus or the Long Beach Fire Regional Training Center. Long Beach Transit provided transportation to the training center, which is located approximately four miles from the school.
LB-Teen-CERT-group-gathering.jpgTeen CERT participants were required to attend all seven sessions and the disaster simulation exercise in order to graduate from the program, which mirrored the expectations placed on adult CERT program participants. A few challenges were anticipated based on the age of the participants and that it was the first year of implementation, however, the students exceeded expectations and performed in a manner comparable to adult participants. Realizing the value of teamwork to accomplish a mission and the importance of maintaining personal safety at all times, the students built confidence, decision-making capabilities, and tested their ability to overcome obstacles and find creative solutions in a challenging environment.
On Jan. 18, 2014, the Long Beach Fire Department graduated the first ever Teen CERT class in Long Beach. Participants took part in the graduation ceremonies that showcased their newly learned skills in a disaster scenario with representatives from federal, state, and local government in attendance.
The Long Beach Teen CERT program has created a springboard for the youth in the community and gives them opportunities for future involvement. The program exposes students to possible career paths and also may inspire them to pursue a college education.LB-Teen-CERT-team.jpg
Through Teen CERT, Long Beach has developed a model program that may be implemented in other cities. Several cities have already contacted the fire department and expressed an interest in replicating the program. The program actively engages the community and looks for unique opportunities to develop partnerships with other civic groups and non-governmental organizations to enhance individual preparedness and community readiness and resiliency. Future Teen CERT classes will team up with the Red Cross and conduct a sheltering and mass care exercise allowing students to stay overnight in a shelter and learn the fundamentals of shelter management.
Long Beach plans to expand the Teen CERT program throughout all area high schools in the city, create Teen CERT clubs and provide additional support with monthly training to maintain the skills participants learned during their initial training. To further develop this program, the Long Beach Teen CERT Olympics will take place annually to empower students to achieve success through friendly competition.

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