When I was in college, I was introduced to something that I thought was quite impressive – a professional medical organization completely organized, led, and operated by other students. It’s a concept that a number of other universities have, and continues to gain traction through the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation. At first, I thought that this was simply a valuable resource to the university, but I soon learned of the enormous potential that an education in medical operations could have on not just college students, but also on teenagers and communities throughout the nation.
While studying homeland security at Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, I was amazed at the expertise displayed by each one of my professors. However, one of them in particular, Dr. James Ramsay, the founding coordinator of the Homeland Security program and founding chair of the Department of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and current coordinator for the Homeland Security program at the University of New Hampshire, had an idea that I believe will transform our schools.
The idea is for each high school across the nation to offer either an elective or mandatory class for all students that lasts for one semester and ends with them becoming certified first responders (CFRs). CFRs are trained in advanced first aid and lifesaving techniques and also have the added benefit of being well versed in the Incident Command System, National Incident Management System, and National Response Framework. They are thus well integrated into any emergency response, anywhere in the nation. Imagine that: a society filled with millions of trained teenagers and young adults who can act as first responders and work alongside professional responders in both short- and long-term disasters.
But the key to this program is not that it simply provides a massive cadre of responsible citizens ready to act in an emergency, but that it gives the added benefit of a sense of purpose. People who commit crime – to include mass shootings – are generally those who are left to fend for themselves and have no sense of belonging. But imagine the effects when students, of all social circles, are brought together to learn how to save lives. That drives an enormous impulse to further contribute to the community.
When we develop a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of mutual respect and interdependence in ourselves and in each other, we are far more likely to put aside our differences and recognize the real-life contributions and value of each individual. You move the front line from teachers and law enforcement to the students themselves, and not through a state of paranoia of who’s going to shoot up the school, but through a sense of duty to serve each other.
When you train someone to save a life, you naturally take away their ambition to take a life. And with millions of young adults ready with these skills, they are equipped to handle many of the challenges of real life, not only understanding how their government works but also being able to act from saving a friend who is choking, to stabilizing a family member in a car accident, to doing triage in the aftermath of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers independent study courses for free on all aspects of emergency management. These courses range from understanding basic incident command to medical operations, dealing with hazardous materials, and active shooters, to utilizing social media in emergency management and even the continuity of operations during a global pandemic. By working in partnerships with local fire departments, EMS providers, or hospitals for training and equipment, schools can provide a way for students to not only learn the crucial skills to save a life in almost any situation, but fully understand and feel connected to the whole system that provides emergency services to our nation. It provides that sense of being part of something bigger than themselves and sparks the initiative to continue learning about how to save lives instead of take them.
As our nation continues to deal with COVID-19 and prepares to open businesses and schools once again, the course IS-360: Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents: A Guide for Schools, Higher Education, and Houses of Worship might be of particular interest to you. Both the courses and exam are free; however, to get credit simply requires registration which can be done through https://cdp.dhs.gov/femasid/register.
Being nice to people is the first line of defense in school or workplace violence. We’ve known that for years and it was how Rachel’s Challenge got started in the wake of Columbine. It’s a simple concept, one that Christ himself made it quite straightforward in Matthew 7:12: “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” – what we all know as the Golden Rule.
When you train to save lives, you come to appreciate even more the sanctity of every life. You become attuned to others’ pain and you strive to find ways to stop the hurt. In our nation today we oftentimes find ourselves divided. The narrative of the day pitches us against each other based on our race, religion, sexual identity, and politics. But when you enter the world of emergency management, you realize how trivial those things are. How none of it matters because we all have the same feelings, the same fears, and the same dreams. And we all bleed red. Introducing students to that simple concept drives our divisions away.
By no means is this the 100 percent solution to stop all bad things in our nation, but if we start training our children as first responders, not only will we dramatically change the mindset of those who feel vulnerable, left out, and perhaps vindictive – the common traits for school shooters and those who may end up joining gangs or pursuing other crimes – but it will also provide us with millions of young adults ready to respond when violence or other disasters knock at the door.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected] Our editorial guidelines can be found here.