After a long Nebraska winter in 2019, the state’s flat plains were still frozen solid in mid-March of that year, blanketed with the remains of record-setting snow. Then it began to rain, and the downpours melted snow on the ground. The runoff flowed toward frozen rivers and creeks because the ground was too frozen to absorb it.
The town of Fremont was trapped between the overflowing Platte and Elkhorn Rivers, becoming a virtual island, with the only way in or out by air. Homes throughout the surrounding area flooded, including the home of Dodge County resident, Chevelle Spracklin.
That disaster inspired Spracklin, a rising high school sophomore, to join Dodge County’s new Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) this summer. Teen CERT volunteers help in a variety of ways during and after an emergency. This includes assisting in evacuations, organizing volunteers, providing damage assessment information, and assisting with crowd control.
“A lot of kids don’t realize what they can do and how much they’re capable of. It’s nice to be able to show them they can help others by helping themselves,” Spracklin said.
The 2019 flooding also motivated Dodge County Emergency Management Director Thomas Smith to start the county’s first-ever Teen CERT in 2021. He had hoped to start the program in 2020, but COVID-19 postponed those plans until this year.
“Teen CERTs can be very rewarding programs. The teens graduate, go to college, and become part of the community afterward, where they can still actively help. You’re teaching them safety skills for life,” Smith said.
Dodge County has one of the newest Teen CERTs, but there are dozens of others throughout the country. Four-hundred miles from Dodge County, a high school in Bayard, Nebraska offers a student CERT course for class credit. Students put their skills in emergency response to the test in 2018 after a tornado ripped through the town. They went from door to door checking on residents and clearing tree limbs from yards.
Teen CERT volunteers take the CERT Basic Training course , which takes about 20 hours. It includes lessons on how to identify and anticipate hazards, conduct light search and rescue, and assist those who are injured, among other topics. Some Teen CERTs take additional training; for example, the Dodge County Teen CERT learned even more about first aid in a Stop the Bleed course.
“We’ve been prepared so well that when we’re put into these situations, we don’t think, ‘Can I do this?’ We do it. We’ve had the training and know we can,” said Rance Prewitt, a Teen CERT member in Mart, Texas, who is featured in FEMA’s CERT in Action video. Teens in his CERT helped distribute bottled water in a nearby town whose municipal water plant failed for more than a week.
This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here
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