Montana State University Extension partners with innovative national award-winning youth preparedness initiative, MyPI National

Fire Supression

MyPI MT instructors practice fire suppression

This week at the Gallatin County Extension Office in Bozeman, MT, the initial delegation of instructors within the Montana Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI Montana, completed a comprehensive certification and training workshop led by the MyPI National Coordination Team, and became the fourteenth state to train instructors under the national project umbrella.  According to Meghan Phillippi, the MyPI Montana Program Coordinator and an Extension Volunteer and Program Delivery Associate Specialist for Montana State University Extension, “One of my reasons for fostering this relationship and bringing this program to Montana is because it is a wonderful opportunity to develop important, life-saving skills in our youth, giving them the ability to truly contribute in an emergency or perhaps prevent it.  Additionally, MyPI will empower our teens to be actively engaged in the health and wellness of their communities.  Some of our students may choose to pursue a career in one of the fields they are exposed to.  Communities will only benefit from our students’ increased awareness of preparedness and response protocols.”  Added Phillippi, “MSU Extension is committed to improving the lives of Montanans through education.  When we learned about MyPI, we were excited about the opportunity to provide quality, thorough education in the area of emergency preparedness and response.  In the next year, through the efforts of MyPI students, 875 households will create or enhance their emergency supply kits and communication plans.  In a state that is not just rural, but largely frontier, this type of preparedness can really be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.”

Over the next 12 months, MyPI Montana will be offering this innovative and engaging youth preparedness program to teens who will assist families and communities across the state.  This program, based on a national award winning model delivered in Mississippi through the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi Citizen Corps, enhances individual, family, and community preparedness for disasters, while at the same time, strengthening youth leadership, communication skills, teamwork, decision making, self-esteem, civic responsibility, and empowerment, along with family communication and cohesion. “One of the underlying missions of MyPI National is to reboot youth preparedness across this country, to capitalize on the energy of our youth, and to set the new standard for how we engage our teens in sustained preparedness endeavors as we move forward in the face of a variety of threats and hazards that we continue to see on seemingly a daily basis.  We have seen fantastic success for several years in Mississippi and have now begun to see the same impact within our partners under the MyPI National umbrella.  As our MyPI National team works with MyPI Montana instructors over the next 12 months, we will continue the process of fostering relationships and networks that will hopefully ensure the success of this program for years to come, which is yet another very achievable outcome and one that this great state and its citizens, families, and communities deserve,” said Dr. C. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director and MyPI Mississippi Program Coordinator. 

Mississippi Citizen Corps State Program Manager and Lead Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Instructor for MyPI National, Dave Nichols, added, “It has been a great experience and quite an honor for me this week as we trained this new cohort of MyPI Instructors here in Montana.  Being a diverse state with a broad array of disaster types, I know that this all-hazards approach to preparedness and response will help these MyPI instructors to teach basic preparedness and response skills that will benefit not only Montana teens, but entire families and communities across the state.  MyPI Montana teens are in good hands with these instructors.”                  

MyPI Montana is a component of the National Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI National, a partnership of 18 states and 1 US territory.  MyPI National Phase 1 began by delivering the MyPI model to teenagers across Nebraska, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi.  In September of 2017, MyPI National was awarded the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual and Community Preparedness national award for “Outstanding Achievement in Youth Preparedness.”  Capitalizing on program success and momentum, MyPI National began a Phase 2 expansion of the program which enabled the inclusion of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and the first US territory to be represented, Guam. 

Regarding Montana, Akers stated, “Our MyPI National Coordination team has literally travelled to all corners of the nation with this project and I can confidently say that the MyPI instructors in Montana have displayed equal levels of passion, engagement, and motivation that is characteristic of our most productive partners.  As the National Project Director, I can assert that this certainly makes administering this program and being a productive program incubator so much easier and more enjoyable when you have a cohesive unit that already has a vision for delivering MyPI.  Montana teens, families, and communities are in for a treat on multiple levels due to the work of these great professionals and preparedness advocates.  Much like their colleagues across the nation, the instructors in Montana truly exude a passion to change lives and to educate their communities, particularly their teens.  It was indeed a pleasure for the MyPI National team to be here in this beautiful state this week.  This initial cohort of instructors and the Program Coordinator will prove to be a great asset for our overall program goals and will guide the state program with the motivation and zest that we have come to expect and that our program demands.  We are excited about this great partnership with Montana State University Extension and look forward to seeing the program become a true statewide outreach campaign.  I anticipate fantastic growth as MyPI Montana takes root, progresses and flourishes across the state in large part because of their efforts and dedication.”

Added Akers, “MyPI offers a tremendous, multi-faceted approach to youth preparedness with rich learning and leadership opportunities for teens and enhanced preparedness levels for families and communities.  There is a definitive focus and energy necessary as we move into the next phase of MyPI Montana, where the real work is done and the real impact is seen. On a personal and a professional level, I look forward to seeing these new instructors respond to the challenge and become the catalyst for positive change and impact.  It is clear from this week that the instructors have a strong passion for disaster education and preparedness, the development of their youth and safety of their families, and the livelihood of these communities, which is wonderful to see.  We expect a positive impact for all involved and will continue to work with the instructors, the Program Coordinator, and community partners to ensure its success over the long-term.”     

The MyPI model offers a flexible 5 to 10 week, three component program.  In Component A, teenagers will complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency-certified Teen CERT training and corresponding modules focusing on Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety and Utility Control, Disaster Medical Operations, Light Search and Rescue, CERT Organization, Disaster Psychology, and Terrorism and CERT.  In Component B, the Add-On Catalog features certification in CPR and AED usage, along with a technology track comprised of awareness programs focusing on HAM Radio, NOAA Weather Radio, Smoke Alarm Maintenance, and Smart Phone App and Social Media in Emergency Preparedness.  The Add-On Catalog also includes a Disaster simulation, and a Career Track that focuses on public safety, fire service, and emergency management careers.  The final element of the program, Component C, includes a comprehensive family and community service project entitled PREP + 6 in which each participant helps develop emergency supply kits and emergency communication plans for their family AND 6 additional families or households. This component allows for significant enhancement in individual, family, and community preparedness and resilience.  To graduate from the program, students must complete all components.   

Sadie Caltrider, who serves as the Beaverhead County Disaster and Emergency Services Assistant, is among the newly certified MyPI Montana instructors and will soon be delivering the program locally.  According to Caltrider, “I believe that, especially in Montana, being able to train our youth in emergency preparedness really benefits the entire community.  Our teenagers make up a significant percentage of our population, and if we can train them how to help, it will make great strides in closing the gaps left by sometimes considerable response times and our scarcity of resources.”  Caltrider added, “I’m most excited for the opportunity of volunteerism that MyPI brings.  Many of our small communities only thrive because of volunteers.  It is critically important to instill in our teens a sense of duty to their community and pride for where they live.  MyPI teaches life skills that are not only valuable during a crisis, but fosters leadership and commitment abilities that will undoubtedly transfer well into adulthood.  Students considering MyPI should be excited to participate in a two-time national award winning program.  They will be able to graduate from this program with applicable skills that will help themselves, their families, and their communities.  This is a program for all teens because disasters and tragedies do not discriminate.  It’s not if they will be affected, it’s when, and knowing what to do could save lives.”      

Campbell Barrett, 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent in Missoula County, agreed with Caltrider.  According to Barrett, “From a practical standpoint, our students will gain leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that will help them succeed in life beyond high school.  More specifically, students will learn how to help their family and community be better prepared to survive and thrive in the face of any natural or man-made disaster.”  Barrett, who will soon begin planning deliveries in Missoula County, added, “Our MyPI teens are in a unique position to spearhead emergency preparedness initiatives in their household and in their communities.  As young adults, they are already taking on more responsibilities in their homes, and they are more connected socially and emotionally to their communities than many adults.  Youth and adults alike pay attention when a motivated teen is passionate about anything, especially a topic as timely as emergency preparedness.  MyPI Montana will give teens the tools, support, and direction they need to succeed in spreading this message.”

Mark Weber, Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, and Jay Schomer, Special Education Paraprofessional and Safety and Risk Instructor for Montana State University, are also among the newly certified MyPI Montana instructors.  Weber stated, “MyPI is a new and exciting opportunity to involve the young people of our communities in emergency preparedness, not only for themselves, but their families and communities as well.  These teens are vibrant, vital members of our communities and are often overlooked and underestimated for their ability to contribute and lead.  Most are curious and willing to learn and apply new concepts if they have the opportunity.  It’s also a great opportunity for adults who may be interested in making an impact.  If you enjoy working with teenagers and want to share life skills that they can then pass on to others, don’t hesitate to get involved with MyPI.  Emergencies happen every day and nothing feels worse after the fact than to realize you were of no help because you didn’t learn a few simple steps to help your family or a neighbor.   

Schomer agreed, “While taking on a commitment for such a comprehensive and aggressive program may seem daunting at first, one quickly realizes that the impact and the value to the community is unprecedented.  Gallatin County, where I reside and will deliver MyPI, may seem like a community with a variety of emergency services, it benefits everyone for each individual and family to have as much knowledge and awareness as possible about risks and how to take care of themselves in the event of a disaster.”   

Jennifer Saunders, Fergus County 4-H Program Assistant for MSU Extension and MyPI Montana Instructor, sees a vital connection and a great opportunity for 4-H and other youth serving agencies alike.  According to Saunders, “For over 100 years, the 4-H program has shared vital, new, innovative information with teens and given them the tools to share that information with their families and communities.  Then we have watched the amazing impact these empower youth have.  I foresee those same kinds of results with MyPI Montana in my county.  Our MyPI students will test and strengthen their leadership skills.  They will gain insight into a number of potential career paths.  They will acquire the ability to help themselves, their families, and their neighbors in the event of a disaster and will share information that may prevent injury or loss of life.”

The partnering states in MyPI National are replicating the model created and delivered in Mississippi.  In 2014, the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative was named FEMA’s national award winner for Outstanding Youth Preparedness program. It also received an Honorable Mention recognition for “Preparing the Whole Community.” In 2015, MyPI Mississippi was named one of the first entities to be named an official Affirmer of the new National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education. As such, MyPI is an engaged and recognized component of a nationally supported, progressive approach to preparing youth for emergencies and disasters.  MyPI National is also recognized as an Affirmer of the national strategy.

For additional information regarding MyPI Montana, including areas of the state that the program will be delivered initially, please visit the MyPI Montana website at http://mypimontana.org or contact Meghan Phillippi, MyPI Montana Program Coordinator at meghan.phillippi@montana.edu or 406-994-3503.  For more information regarding MyPI National, please visit the MyPI National website at http://mypinational.extension.msstate.edu or contact Dr. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director at cra20@msstate.edu or 662.325.5914.  You may also reference both projects on social media platforms.  Facebook profiles can be found by searching “My PI Montana” and “My PI National” respectively, and Twitter feeds can be found by searching “@MyPI_MT” and “@MyPI_National”.