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All Hands on Deck! Innovation and Engagement in Mississippi’s Youth Preparedness through MyPI

Ryan Akers is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

Ryan Akers

Ryan Akers is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

As a member of the faculty at the Mississippi State University Extension Service (MSU-ES), I am able to unite two passions of mine: emergency preparedness and the mentoring of youth. This position has provided me with abundant opportunities to enhance emergency preparedness across the state of Mississippi, addressing areas ripe for improvement and engaging individuals, families, and communities in emergency preparedness. My research background centers on college and university emergency management and the effects of trauma on college students, so I set my sights on youth preparedness research, program development, and advocacy.

The Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative (MyPI) is a comprehensive teen-centric preparedness program. It is different from other programs across the country because it has a curriculum, leadership and service opportunities, and career planning services, allowing for enhanced preparedness levels for approximately 25,000 families each year.

At the end of the 20th century, approximately 66.5 million children were affected annually by disasters.  To prepare for natural disasters, we need a more informed population, including our youth, and a focus on roles youth can play in emergency preparedness.  At MyPI, we believe that teens can play an important role in preparing our communities for disasters. In recent years, we have experienced the destructive forces of tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding. We are keenly aware of the destructive powers of Mother Nature, but preparedness is still lacking, especially in our rural communities.  The MSU-ES and Mississippi Citizen Corps created a dynamic partnership to address these shortfalls through outreach.          

The DHS/FEMA-approved Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training provides us with foundational knowledge in our curriculum. One unique aspect of MyPI is the addition of CPR/AED certification, a technology track, and a career track, which allows our students to gain specialization in their area of interest. The technology track includes awareness programs for HAM radio, NOAA weather radio, smart phone apps and social media, and smoke alarms. The National Weather Service also provides extreme weather awareness programming, and Mississippi Citizen Corps provides a disaster simulation. The career track focuses on emergency management, fire service, and public safety.  Individuals from each local agency explain the field, entry requirements, and answer questions. The leadership and community service capstone project, PREP + 6, is the defining piece of MyPI and allows us to reach further into communities. Throughout MyPI, every student works with their family plus six others to develop emergency supply kits and family communication plans. At the conclusion of MyPI, every participant directly enhances the individual and family preparedness of seven families in their community. 

As a native Mississippian and advocate for youth preparedness, it is incumbent upon me to close gaps in preparedness across our state. Our goal is to establish a new standard for youth preparedness because that will improve the safety and security of families and communities. Together, the MSU-ES and Mississippi Citizen Corps are working aggressively to promote preparedness by empowering our teens to take a leadership role within their families and communities. 

Dr. Ryan Akers is an Assistant Extension Professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service focusing on Community Preparedness and Disaster Management. Dr. Akers also serves as the Coordinator of the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative.