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UNCE educators earn national award for disaster planning

Posted 4/9/2009

Powell and Smith pioneered preparedness plans involving youth

By Jim Sloan

Two University of Nevada Cooperative Extension faculty have received awards for their work helping rural Nevada counties prepare for disasters.

Extension Educator Pamela Powell and Area Specialist Marilyn Smith received the 2009 Extension Family Science Team Award for their work in the disaster preparedness program called Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter (AES) Training. The program involved training youth-and-adult teams to assist their communities by using geospatial technology to create evacuation and shelter maps.

The award, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, will be presented at the Extension Human Sciences Conference in New Orleans April 20-24.

There were 75 declared disasters in the United States in 2008 — tying 1996 for the highest number in history. Though some people feel it is impossible to be prepared for unexpected events, studies show preparedness plans help people deal with many disasters more effectively. This issue is particularly important in rural communities such as those in Nevada, where resources are limited and most emergency staffers are part-time or volunteer.

Although the AES program initially addressed human evacuation and sheltering, the program — spurred on by a new law -- has recently expanded to include the evacuation and care of pets.

In 2008, Powell co-authored the special publication "Are You Prepared for a Disaster?" which outlined steps families can take during an emergency. Powell and Smith, working with two other researchers, co-authored a 2008 Fact Sheet titled "Emergency Preparedness and the Tabletop Exercise: How Youth Can Play a Part in the Process," which describes how youths can be involved in planning for disasters. During the exercise, youth strategize how to respond to a mock disaster, such as a tornado striking a school.

Powell and Smith make a case for educating youth in disaster planning and in responding to actual disasters.

"Youth showed they were capable of analyzing the situation and providing appropriate concrete strategies to address the issues," Powell and Smith wrote. "It is important to realize that all citizens need this knowledge, and that youth can also assist in the planning process."

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