Highlights from the April 2023 Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter


Save the Date for the 2023 National CERT Conference

CERT conference logoThe National CERT Association (NCA) will hold its 2023 conference in San Francisco from June 29 to July 1, with preconference training available from June 26 to June 29. This year, the NCA is partnering with the California Office of Emergency Services, the Fire Services Training Institute  and the Bay Area Urban Areas Securities Initiative , which will allow for enhanced training opportunities for conference attendees. More than 35 training opportunities will be offered during pre-conference this year. The conference theme is CERT 360°, highlighting CERT’s ability to be flexible as a community resource, as well as being inclusive of all community members. The conference will feature trainings and presentations for all levels of CERT, including emergency managers, program managers, instructors, volunteers and CERT partners. This year, the conference will include the first-ever National CERT skills competition. CERT volunteers from across the U.S. will compete as teams to test a variety of CERT skills. The conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency SFO hotel near San Francisco. For more information about the conference, visit the National CERT Association website sign up for the 2023 National CERT Conference email list.
NCA President Suu-Va Tai with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell
NCA President Suu-Va Tai with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell at the 2022 National CERT Conference.

YPC Members Champion Preparedness in Their Communities

From mobilizing young volunteers, to helping older residents cope with hurricanes, to teaching Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes to fellow high school students, FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) members from across the country are preparing their communities for emergencies. As part of their work on both the national and regional YPCs, members from across the nation implement projects to help other teens and community members stay prepared. We highlight six of those projects below. 

A Helping Hand from Hurricane Helpers

Isabella Tar

Isabella Tarsitano

Region 4 YPC member Isabella Tarsitano started Hurricane Helpers, a program that provides storm resources and information on preparedness, after witnessing the difficulty her family and neighbors had in preparing their homes for Hurricanes Irma and Matthew in Florida in 2016 and 2017. She specifically remembers the challenges for older residents.

“It broke my heart to see them struggle and not be able to lift the [sand]bags up into their cars,” Isabella recalled. Furniture that remained outside became airborne, damaging surrounding houses. “Seeing those effects, I knew I had to do something,” she said.

Last year she created the website and Facebook page that also help pair youth with those who face physical challenges in preparing their homes. The teens organized by Hurricane Helpers assisted in cleanup after Hurricane Nicole last November.
Isabella’s work has been recognized by Florida Division of Emergency Management  Director Kevin Guthrie  and her county’s office of Emergency Management. She presented information on her project to Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff  during last July’s YPC summit. Isabella hopes to coordinate with Guthrie to create a YPC for Florida and is working to build a larger volunteer base of people who can help with hurricane preparation and cleanup.

“I feel honored to have received recognition from such amazing and high-level people. It’s awesome, humbling and slightly overwhelming all at the same time. I started Hurricane Helpers with no intent whatsoever of gaining recognition. I was just trying to help solve a problem I saw,” she said. 

Reducing Disaster-Related Stress


National YPC member Vaishnavi Kumbala created the Saplings app to help teens struggling with anxiety.

National YPC member Vaishnavi Kumbala created the Saplings app to help teens struggling with anxiety.
National YPC member Vaishnavi Kumbala was also motivated to help following her experience with a hurricane. She was already facing anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic when Hurricane Ida struck her Louisiana town in 2021, and she knew other teens had the same worries.  

“When I was looking to manage stress, I could only find long books, research studies and exercises that did not appeal to me. Furthermore, I was interested in learning to meditate, but the tutorials I found were intimidating, and none of them broke the mindfulness process down into small, less overwhelming steps,” she said.  

This inspired Vaishnavi to create a mental health app she named Saplings that includes meditation and journaling features focused on teens. “Saplings can represent growth and change, and by adopting this name for my app, I wanted to encourage a growth mindset in users and inspire them to cultivate happiness and calm in their daily lives,” she said. 

Vaishnavi has partnered with high schools to present information on Saplings through flyers and assemblies. The app gained users after it won the 2021 Congressional App Challenge for Vaishnavi’s congressional district. It has also been featured in Teen Vogue and on the ABC News website, as well as on the First Lady of Louisiana’s blog.

Bringing CERT Training and First Aid Skills to Students

During the Idaho Office of Emergency Management preparedness conference last year, Region 10 Youth Preparedness Council member Reagan Wiedenfeld (third from left) spoke about teaching CERT classes to her fellow students.

During the Idaho Office of Emergency Management preparedness conference last year, Region 10 Youth Preparedness Council member Reagan Wiedenfeld (right) spoke about teaching CERT classes to her fellow students.
Becoming a Teen CERT volunteer through a global, student-led organization called HOSA-Future Health Professionals (formerly Health Occupations Students of America) helped spur Reagan Wiedenfeld to join Region 10’s YPC. When a fellow high school student who taught an afterschool CERT class graduated, Reagan stepped up to take her place. 

“I started teaching CERT because I knew that, without me, we would lose our program. During my first class, I was so nervous, but I eventually found a groove and now I can’t imagine not teaching CERT,” she said. 

While she teaches first aid, triage and other skills, those in the class must also take the official CERT Basic Training outside of school to become full-fledged CERT volunteers. She said the skills she teaches in the class jumpstart interest in emergency preparedness and are also a stepping stone for others interested in health careers. For Reagan, the CERT experience has helped inspire her desire to major in public health in college next year. 

Last year, she spoke at the Idaho Office of Emergency Management preparedness conference about her experience, giving tips on how to get teens excited about CERT. 

“I think there’s a sentiment that young people don’t want to put in the work to learn these skills, that they will be bored or unwilling. I don’t think that’s true. After two years of experience, I’ve seen that when you show people, even at 14 years old, how to stop major bleeding or how to splint an open fracture they become hungry for more,” Reagan said. 

Lauren Coval

Lauren Coval

Similarly, national YPC member Lauren Coval is the founder and president of the CERT club at her Colorado high school, where she partners with the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management to help coordinate speakers and trainings. The club meets weekly and has about 30 members. Guest speakers at the meetings have included the local fire department, which used a fire simulator to show club members how to put out fires. EMS professionals have discussed local hazards, including the potential for earthquakes in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

“It was a little rocky at first with finding a sponsor and getting students to attend, but I found donuts were a great tactic to get people there and to listen!” Lauren said. “I love connecting with people and helping give them the resources to be able to better prepare themselves, their families and homes in case of an emergency. I’ve seen first-hand how in a split second people can lose almost everything and how if they had just taken a few steps to prepare, their loss may not have been so devastating.” 

National YPC member Navin Ramesh has also worked to help teens be ready to step in with first aid. When Navin became a member of the Region 1 YPC he took a course called FAST, which stands for First Aid for Severe Trauma, a Stop the Bleed course designed for high school students.  

“This gave me a glimpse into how essential knowing how to control bleeding in an emergency situation is,” he said. “Emergencies and accidents can occur at any time, and being prepared for one ahead of time could save a life.” 

Navin Iyer

Navin Iyer

With that in mind, he worked to formalize the FAST course as part of his high school’s mandatory ninth grade health curriculum this year. The course will now be a required part of health training each year at his school. 

“It is exciting that the freshman each year will be trained, as students at my school come from over 75 towns in the New England area,” he said. “They would bring the skills they learn back to their hometowns, so this training could positively impact quite a large region.” 

Championing Preparedness at Home and Abroad 

Alexia Nastasia

Alexia Nastasia

Alexia Nastasia is spreading preparedness messaging not just in her home state of Missouri, but throughout the world as she participates in the Working Group on Girls, which is affiliated with the United Nations. Last fall she was selected to be one of four facilitators of the International Day of the Girl, where she helped make emergency preparedness a centerpiece of the event and introduced U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.  

Alexia is in her second year on the national YPC. This year, she is studying abroad in Senegal with the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad Program.  
At the same time, she is serving as the chair of the St. Louis County Youth Advisory Council. Based on her YPC experience, she helped create an emergency preparedness work group to help youth from kindergarten through college learn more about being ready for emergencies. 

“I became increasingly convinced that the pressing issues of our time could not be addressed without the participation of youth, from the planning phase to the implementation stage and across leadership and policy levels,” she said. “I strongly believe this is the case with emergency preparedness: If young people are ready for various emergencies—whether related to natural disasters, addressing issues such as gun violence or the opioid crisis, or other reasons—then their families, schools and organizations they take part in are all better prepared to address crises.” 

Learn more about the Youth Preparedness Council and the work of its members here

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here

Disclaimer: The reader recognizes that the federal government provides links and informational data on various disaster preparedness resources and events and does not endorse any non-federal events, entities, organizations, services, or products. Please let us know about other events and services for individual and community preparedness that could be included in future newsletters by contacting FEMA-prepare@fema.dhs.gov 

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