Powell, P. 2012, Training youth to prepare communities for disasters, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-12-09


Disaster situations can, and do, affect thousands of individuals every year across the United States. Preparedness levels determine the degree of individual and community response and recovery. Knowing what to do during a disaster is a key factor in remaining safe, (ready.gov, 2012). Since there are situations where adults are not readily available to respond, and because children account for 25 percent of our total population, it is important for youth to understand what to do to prepare for, and survive, an emergency. Over 65 million children are affected by natural disasters each year, therefore it is critcal for youth to have training to care for themselves and others, (CitizenCorp.gov, 2012). The 4-H Teen CERT program not only trains youth what to do and how to respond in a disaster, but also helps youth prepare their community should an emergency occur. This fact sheet will report on a final evaluation of a two-state educational program to train older youth to educate communities about disasters and to train fellow youth in appropriate response efforts once a disaster occurs.

4-H Teen CERT

As stated in the National Preparedness Guidelines (2007), “as uniformed responders account for less than 1% of the total U.S. population, it is clear that citizens must be better prepared, trained, and practiced on how best to take care of themselves and assist others in those first crucial hours during and after a catastrophic incident.” During a disaster, the first responder can be overwhelmed in efforts to keep residents safe. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) trained under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved curriculum are typically made up of adult community volunteers. The 4-H Teen CERT program follows the adult CERT curriculum, with modifications for adolescentappropriate activities. Working alongside management personnel, CERT-trained youth can assist agencies in educating communities about disasters as well as responding when they occur. In addition, the 4-H training follows a train-the-trainer approach, educating youth/adult teams to replicate the program, encouraging expansion to additional youth and adults in their respective communities. In 2010 and 2011, 11 youth/adult 4-H teams in Oregon and Nevada attended intensive three-day CERT training. For more information on training objectives, please read University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) Fact Sheet #11- 49 “4-H Teen CERT: Involving Youth in Community Emergency Response Teams.”

Training Evaluation

Immediately following the training, youth and adults completed a retrospective evaluation survey of the training, as well as provided feedback to improve future trainings. Please see UNCE Fact Sheet 11-50 “4-H Teen CERT: An Evaluation of a Two-Day Nevada Training” for more information on the evaluations immediately following the Nevada training. Following the training, youth/adult teams returned to their respective communities to replicate what they learned. In an effort to determine the efficacy of the training beyond the immediate learning objectives, team members were mailed follow-up surveys, approximately six to 12 months post-training. The survey querried knowledge gain, attitude change and skill acquisition as a result of the training and continued efforts to prepare their communities for disaster response.

Evaluation Method

The follow-up survey was a four-page instrument following a retrospective pre-post post format. The retrospective pre-post instrument combined both the pre-test and the post-test into one survey and allowed participants to rate their knowledge at the end of the program by thinking back to how much they knew before the program began. This evaluation design helps to alleviate the potential of respondents’ over- and/or under-assessing their perceived learning, a potential constraint of the traditional pre-test/post-test method. This method was chosen to help address the problem of “response-shift bias” (Colosi and Duncan, 2006). Respondents rated their agreement and/or disagreement of the evaluation statements using a 5-point Likert type scale, where “1” represented “strongly disagree, and “5” represented “strongly agree.” A “don’t know” category was also provided.

Surveys were mailed to all participants, along with a letter explaining the evaluation, contact information for researchers, and a selfaddressed stamped envelope for respondents to return completed surveys. The surveys were voluntary and confidential, meaning that responses were not required and that no identifying information was collected.

Evaluators used descriptive statistics software (IBM SPSS 19.0 Software, 2010) to analyze survey results.

This project was supported via grant dollars awarded to Oregon State University and subawarded to University of Nevada, Reno. Therefore, all evaluation instruments and research procedures were submitted through Oregon State University’s Institional Review Board (IRB) and approved through University of Nevada, Reno’s Office of Sponsored Projects before the sub-award was accepted. University IRBs serve to ensure that correct investigative protocols are maintained through the entire research process to protect respondents’ confidentiality.

Participant Demographics

Of the 38 individuals trained in the 4-H Teen CERT curriculum, 55 percent returned completed surveys. Of all youth trained, 14 returned completed surveys; of the 11 adults, 7 returned surveys. Trained youth were either high school after-school program members, county 4-H members, or affiliated with Health Occupations Students Association (HOSA). Adults were 4-H volunteer leaders, 4-H staff, school teachers or community members involved in disaster preparedness. Because the program is designed for older teens, invited students were 14 years of age or older. Seven youth were male, and 20 youth were female. The average age of student attendees was 16.

Evaluation Findings

Follow-up survey results revealed statistically significant increases in youth participant knowledge, attitude change and skill acquisition for 19 of the 21 topics querried, based upon a paired t-test comparison of mean pre-test and post-test scores. Table 1 below shows the ranked mean scores for each of the teaching topics included in the survey (1=low rating and 5= high rating on the Likert scale). The rankings shown in Table 1 indicate which topics had the greatest average score improvement for the 21 topics surveyed. “I know I am prepared to help my community” showed the biggest increase in knowledge gain. Ranked topics one through five asked about preparation for an emergency, as did topics seven and 15. As the focus of the training was to teach youth disaster preparation for the individual, family and community, this indicates success in achieving targeted learning objectives. “Youth are capable of providing educational training about emergency management” tied for fifth in ranking. This supports the accomplishment of the training program in that the objective to empower youth to become educators to community residents about emergency management. This is further realized as the eighth ranked topic was “youth are capable of teaching disaster preparedness and response techniques to others.” Obviously, youth feel comfortable and capable of teaching CERT emergency preparedness strategies to others.

In addition, a Cronbach’s Alpha test was run to determine the reliability of the evaluation instrument used. Reliability tests are used to verify if the instrument used is consistently measuring the questions asked. In order to be considered reliable, it is recommended that the reliability score be .70 or higher before the instrument is used. The Cronbach’s Alpha test for the 4-H Teen CERT training received a reliability score of .943, indicating that the evaluation survey was consistently measuring what it was designed to do.

*table here

Rating code: 5 = very much; 1 = very little

aDifferences between pre-test and post-test scores statistically significant at p<.01 using a paired t-test comparison

bDifferences between pre-test and post-test scores statistically significant at p<.05 using a paired t-test comparison

Cronbach’s Alpha = .943

*21 was reverse-coded

While adults were mailed a similar follow-up evaluation, their role was to guide learning and provide support to the youth. Of interest, however, is that the adults ranked as their No. 1 knowledge gain “I am knowledgeable in the areas of CERT training” followed by “I know I am prepared to help my community respond to a disaster” as No. 2 ranking. As with the youth responses to the surveys, the topic “Youth are capable of providing educational training about emergency management” tied for fifth in the adult survey responses, along with “I am knowledgeable about the disasters that can affect my community.”

In addition to the Likert-type scale questions, participants were asked to provide their opinion of the training. One adult wrote “Emergency Management planning is a critical service to communities and one that youth can be a valuable resource/partner for accomplishing. It is an excellent service learning project.” Similarly, a youth wrote “I feel with proper training, youth and adults can work together in preparation for a disaster. By teaming up, we can all work for the betterment of our community in case of a disaster.”


The 4-H Teen CERT training focused on three main objectives, 1) to train youth and adult teams on how to deliver the 4-H Teen CERT program to community youth, 2) to enhance the preparedness level of communities through youth education concerning appropriate disaster response, and 3) to engage youth in emergency preparedness and response to benefit their communities. As this follow-up evaluation reveals, this program is a valuable component to the Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-8, to have a secure and resilient nation. In support of youth involvement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Education, and the American Red Cross in partnership recently stated that children can play important roles in disaster preparedness, helping to keep their communities safer, stronger and resilient before, during and after a disaster (Citizen Corp, 2012). The 4-H Teen CERT program is addressing both youth involvement in emergencies and our helping communities be prepared before, during and after a disaster.

References and Recommended Reading


Benefits to Youth Preparedness. Citizen Corps. Retrieved May 8, 2012

Colosi, L., & Dunifon, R. (2006). “What’s the difference? “Post then pre” & “pre then post.” Cornell Cooperative Extension. New York. Retrieved on Jan. 12, 2008

Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-8, December 17, 2003, The White House

IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences for Windows (Version 19.0) [Computer Software]. Chicago: Author, 2010.

National Preparedness Guidelines. (2007). U.S. Department of Homeland Security, page 27, Website: Homeland Security

4-H Teen CERT: Involving Youth in Community Emergency Response Teams, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet 11-49

4-H Teen CERT: An Evaluation of a Two-Day Nevada Training, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet 11-50

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