Children need to prepare for disaster too.
Photo by Renee Simmons Morrison
Jacksonville State University's ZERO clinic forces kids to use everyday items to survive.

Thirteen-year-old Alexis Becker heard screams and followed the sound to the home of an elderly neighbor who had mistakenly started a kitchen fire. Alexis helped the women escape the smoke and then called 911, but her dog was still inside. Alexis knew it was too dangerous to enter the house, so she called out and the dog responded.

The owner and pet were reunited and the woman’s home was salvaged, all due to a Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member. Alexis was trained and knew what and what not to do in a very dangerous situation, and due to her training with Teen CERT, the FEMA-supported teen volunteer training, she was able to save the life of an elderly women.

In some cases, a parent has taken the initiative to teach their children survival skills and what to do in an emergency. Sailor Gutzler was seven years old when she walked out of the woods and knocked on a stranger’s door on a cold January night in rural Kentucky. She was wearing only one sock, a T-shirt and shorts. The homeowner, Larry Wilkins, knew something was drastically wrong. “We had a plane crash,” she told Wilkins, who immediately took her in and called 911.

Sailor’s family’s Piper PA-43 went down in eastern Kentucky. After the crash, Sailor was hanging upside down in the plane, her family was dead and she knew she needed help. Thankfully, Sailor’s dad had taught her basic survival skills that allowed her to walk away from the crash and make her way down rough terrain.

The will to survive is in all of us, no matter our age. Alexis and Sailor’s stories illustrate how a situation can end well for a youth caught up in an emergency. It also underscores the need for youths to get involved because there will be times when there are no adults able to help. Emergencies and disasters can happen at any time, and often occur without warning. Getting kids involved can save their lives as well as the lives of others.

In July of 2015, FEMA, the Red Cross and the Department of Education partnered to create the “National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education: Empowering, Educating and Building Resilience,” a roadmap that outlines the vision for a nation of prepared youth. Kids make up about 25 percent of our population, so any disaster planning, response and recovery efforts must take into account their unique needs. Kids also have the abilities to create awareness, especially among their parents and caregivers. Both educators and social researchers agree that children can effectively bring the message of preparedness home to their families; they are positive influencers.

Build Your Crisis Team

Considering that children comprise approximately 25 percent of our population, disaster planning, response and recovery efforts must take into account the unique needs that children have. Additionally, children bring many unique strengths to emergency preparedness.

First aid is a part of many youth-preparedness programs. Photo by Renee Simmons Morrison
First aid is a part of many youth-preparedness programs. Photo by Renee Simmons Morrison
  • Children are positive influencers. Educators and social researchers agree that children can effectively bring the message of preparedness home to their families.
  • Children can become leaders. By participating in youth preparedness programs, children are empowered to become leaders at home and in their schools and communities.
  • Children who are prepared are more confident during emergencies and disasters. Social science research and anecdotal evidence support the idea that children who have learned about emergency preparedness experience less anxiety during an actual emergency or disaster.


Growing Strong

The most important factor in teaching youth survival skills is confidence building. They can also be empowered by participating in programs taught at their schools or in their communities. Youths who are prepped for emergencies and disasters are more confident. Research and anecdotal evidence has shown that youths who have learned about emergency preparedness are less anxious during an actual emergency event.

Through the National Preparedness Community, teens across the country have been trained and certified since 2012 with the support of FEMA and the FEMA Youth Preparedness Council. The youth council brings together youth leaders who are interested and engaged in advocating youth preparedness in their communities and who are dedicated to public service.

In a real disaster, there is no reset or pause button. Getting kids involved empowers them, and should give parents and caregivers peace of mind since they know their children are aware and capable of dealing with different types of disasters.

Some events, like Jacksonville State University Field Schools’ ZERO clinic, put a spin on learning by incorporating a zombie theme into an event. The scene is set for the youth participants: Citizens have fled the zombie attack and have dropped four backpacks. The students retrieve these packs, but they have no idea what kind of supplies they contain. All the items inside can be used for survival, but it is up to the students to figure out how. To make it more interesting, there are atypical items such as a rubber duck that can become a float to catch fish, a stuffed teddy bear that can be torn open to create a water filtration device and about 50 other unique items. At another Ready Alabama event, students were able to examine simulated wounds.

September is National Preparedness Month, with September 30 designated as National Preparedness Day. Get your kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids involved to keep them safe. Ask their teachers about any programs and visit, which explains how to start a program. If a program is not available, teaching tools, resources and partner organizations like Save the Children, the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts are available.

Fore More Information

Youth Preparedness Council:

Jacksonville State University:; 256-782-5697

DHS does not endorse this article, Survivor’s Edge or

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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