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Twenty-four youth from the Watts community have prepared themselves to be a positive force in their community if disaster strikes. The youth, ages 13 to 19, were the first class to graduate from the Watts/South Los Angeles Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

The initiative was coordinated by the Watts Gang Task Force and interested partners representing community residents, fire, police, public health, nongovernmental, faith and business organizations that came together to design and implement the first-ever Teen Community Emergency Response Team program for youth in the high-risk area.

This initiative is part of the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience Project. The project focuses on community engagement and emphasizes getting to know one’s neighbors in order to plan together and be ready for emergencies. Research from recent disasters has shown communities that know each other and prepare together survive better during emergencies and recover more quickly afterward.

During the seven-week interactive course, the youth learned basic skills in fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

“Both the community and the youth involved will benefit from this project,” said Shamika Ossey, emergency preparedness public health nurse with the county of Los Angeles. “In the course, they learned important life skills they can utilize in the event of an emergency and in their day-to-day living. The course helped boost their self-esteem and made them an integral part of a team that can respond after any natural or man-made emergency. CERT members are trained to assist others in their neighborhood, school or workplace after an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.”

The course was developed by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985 and later adopted by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which expanded the CERT materials to be applicable to all hazards. The program was made available nationally in 1993.

“This program is a wonderful example of community working together to prepare for emergencies,” explained Alonzo Plough, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of emergency preparedness and response for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “The project is all about collaborative, grass-roots efforts to engage community-based organizations to provide leadership that will improve the ability of communities to prepare for, respond to and recover in the event of emergencies and natural disasters.”

“Here we see many players in the community of Watts have come together to positively engage youth in their emergency planning. This project could certainly be viewed as a best practice and adopted by other community partners within L.A. County,” said Plough.

For more general information, visit bereadyla.org.