Youth to the rescue - 100 students trained in emergency response

Published: Friday | May 29, 2009

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

Cadet O'Bryan Allen receives his certificate from Prime Minister Bruce Golding during the launch of the Preparedness and Emergency Respond Corps programme yesterday at the St Mary High School in Highgate, St Mary. - Photo by Carl Gilchrist

Prime Minister Bruce Golding's vision of creating an islandwide network of young people to assist in emergencies began taking shape with the graduation of the first batch of cadets involved in the Preparedness and Emergency Respond Corps (PERC).

The 100 cadets, trained in aspects of emergency response, were presented during a ceremony at St Mary High School in the parish yesterday.

The youths form the first group in what is to be a cadre of 300 people drawn from secondary schools, the Jamaica Cadet Corps, National Youth Service and other sectors to form part of PERC.

As part of the programme, disaster preparedness and risk-reduction training will also be delivered to more than 150 communities islandwide.

The PERC is part of the Government's overall Emergency Response Initiative (ERI), which represents a more than $90-million investment in support of activities of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).

Priority needs

The ERI itself forms Component Two of the Emergency Recovery Project (ERP), which is dedicated to enhancing capacity and contributing to some of the priority needs as outlined by ODPEM.

The ERP was launched early last year for the infrastructural rehabilitation of key institutions damaged by Hurricane Dean in 2007. The project has so far seen the completion of 16 schools, two health centres and five roads with an additional 15 projects currently undergoing works.

A major portion of the $90-million investment will go towards the training of more than 900 people in disaster management, infrastructure maintenance and disaster first response.

The PERC is being implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, ODPEM and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), sponsors of the initiative.

Those youths who received certificates yesterday were specifically trained in incident command, first aid, basic disaster management, search and rescue and damage assessment.

In launching the ERI, Golding urged the facilitation of young people in the development of Jamaica.

"I want us to begin in a deliberate, concerted way to start positioning them (the youth) for that responsibility that they must bear," Golding said. "It is not that our young people are unwilling or incapable of taking responsibility in most instances it is because they are not allowed to; in most instances, it is because we refuse to place our trust and confidence in them because we feel that they can't manage."

According to the prime minister, the cultural manifestation of the youth might be different because cultural changes over time.

However, he argued, if they are allowed, they can "not only bear that responsibility, but they can do things that we can't do because as young people, they are prepared to go where we would not have the courage to go. And that is how progress is achieved".

Golding also called for a programme of recognition for those who would have served so they can become examples, to others of how they are to perform.

The focus of the programme is initially concentrated on the flood prone parishes of Portland, St Thomas, St Mary and St Ann but will spread to other areas over time.

Minister of Education Andrew Holness, who also spoke at the launch, said the business of taking care of the environment will become a focal point of the education system. The PERC, Holness said, will become information agents to spread information about safeguarding the environment.

Director General of ODPEM, Ronald Jackson, noted that it was necessary to strengthen the response capacity at the community level and urged parents to allow their children to be part of the programme. He pointed out that at no time would children be asked to enter dangerous situations.