Youths learn they can face emergency

Expo encourages students to get involved in public safety and preparedness

April 30, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

J.T. Bright was a willing, if jittery, recruit when a Maryland State Police officer surveyed a crowd of students for a volunteer to help him demonstrate the swift skills of Yuka, the department's patrol dog.

"At first, I couldn't believe they were going to let us do that," said Bright, an 11th-grader at South Carroll High School in Winfield who also attends classes at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster. "I was a little nervous. ... Especially when the dog charged at me."

Bright, who gripped a wadded piece of fabric as Yuka - a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, a type of shepherd dog - tried to wrest the toy from the teen, survived the experience with a huge smile and a parting gift. For his valor, he was rewarded with an auto safety kit that he said he will put to good use.

Bright - who described his time on the grassy field with Yuka as "a lot like wrestling" - was among hundreds of students from local schools who ventured from one exhibit to the next at last week's Youth Ready to Respond Expo.

The event was organized to promote awareness of the community's safety needs and encourage people to become involved in local public safety, disaster and emergency preparedness projects. About 25 community agencies, including local emergency services departments such as the Westminster police, the American Red Cross and the county Health Department, participated in the expo.

The Youth Ready to Respond Expo was a culminating activity of a two-year effort funded by a $50,000 grant from Learn and Serve America and the Points of Light Foundation and coordinated through a partnership of the public school system and Volunteer Carroll.

The program has helped Career and Technology Center students learn about safety and preparedness through several projects, including the construction of a model safety house.

Carroll County was one of only 10 communities nationwide that received such a grant.

More than 1,000 students and dozens of adults from area schools and organizations contributed to several projects that grew out of the grant program, said Bill Hill, the school system's coordinator of community partnerships.

Hill said program participants completed six major projects related to homeland security and safe communities.

One of them was a safe house model that more than 100 technology center students in drafting, welding, carpentry, electrical construction and building maintenance began building last fall.

The model, displayed during the event, is equipped with several safety features including a sprinkler system, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, a fire extinguisher, food ration packets, a stockpile of water, interior emergency lighting, metal studs and hurricane ties. The walls of the safe house are painted with a mold-resistant paint, and the carpet has been treated with a similar product.

"I learned multiple things building the safe house," said Josh Layman, a senior at Francis Scott Key High in Union Bridge who attends classes at the tech center. "I helped with the drywall and the carpeting. I learned a lot about sprinkler systems, how they work."

Students also used the federal grant to develop a Web site, www.reachout carrollcounty.org, to disseminate information on safety and disaster preparedness.

Tech center students from disciplines as diverse as machine technology and fashion design were involved in the projects. They compiled three-day disaster survival kits, first-aid materials, metal pen holders with emergency contact numbers listed on the back and fleece blankets.

Hill said several of the projects have been so well-received that school systems as far as Europe have called for advice and guidance.

"We went to a national conference in Philadelphia and presented a Web site model," Hill said. "Ever since then, we've been getting calls from all over."

The school's principal, Cate Engel, said she hopes that Carroll County students - including the dozens of elementary pupils from schools such as Cranberry Station who attended the expo - have learned more about disaster preparedness. In the process, she said, she also hopes they feel better about living in the county.

"We really do have things in place to protect them," she said. "Sometimes we overlook the youth and the role they play in helping the community be better prepared. ... The heroes aren't always over 21."

Engel said the activities and projects that have come out of the Youth Ready to Respond program have given children ample information to carry home to their families and neighbors.

Andrew Gieman - a senior at Westminster High who attends classes at the tech center and who helped develop the project's Web site - said he feels much better prepared for a disaster.

"It's really important to have everybody know how to respond," he said.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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