Q&A: FEMA Youth Council Member Helps Community, Nation Prepare for Crises

The Federal Emergency Management Agency created the Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) in 2012 to bring together young leaders who are interested in supporting disaster preparedness and making a difference in their communities by completing disaster preparedness projects nationally and locally. The YPC supports FEMA’s commitment to involve America’s youth in preparedness-related activities. Additionally, it provides FEMA the opportunity to engage young people and share their perspectives, feedback, and opinions. YPC members meet with FEMA staff throughout their term to provide input on strategies, initiatives, and projects. YPC members also attend the annual YPC Summit in Washington, D.C., meet regularly with FEMA representatives, and complete several emergency preparedness projects.

Homeland Security Today’s Executive Editor Kristina Tanasichuk reached out to one of the council’s young leaders, Banan Garada, a junior at the Urbana School District in Illinois.

HSToday: Tell us about yourself, and what got you interested in preparedness?

Banan: I was selected as a member of the FEMA National Youth Preparedness Council and a representative for Region V covering the state jurisdictions of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin in my junior year. Besides my role on the National Council, I am the oldest sister and example for my two younger siblings (shout out to Foziea and Nadeen Garada!); in my spare time, I enjoy spending time outdoors, especially riding my bike. I became interested in preparedness through a preparedness course I took during my high school freshman year called the Illinois Youth Preparedness Initiative (MyPI). The course utilized National TEEN CERT (Community Emergency Responder Team) materials and training to create a thoroughly interactive and educative course that exposes high school students to the value of understanding and promoting preparedness. Through this course, I learned the importance of being prepared. Reflecting on the words of my instructors, I understood it is never a matter of IF an emergency or disaster will happen, it is always a matter of WHEN. By the completion of the course, I had successfully directed my fellow course students through a disaster simulation and inspired more than 20 local families to create an Emergency Preparedness Kit and Family Communications Plan. My excellence and commitment to the course prompted course instructors Carl Baker and Dana Homann to inform me about the National Youth Preparedness Council Application Webpage, and Dana Homann agreed to write me a recommendation letter for the program.

HSToday: What is the FEMA National Youth Preparedness Council, and how does it relate to preparedness? What is generally expected of the Council?

Banan: The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) National Youth Preparedness Council consists of 15 selected youth from across the nation who, through their experienced knowledge and motivation, help to spread the message of preparedness. Preparedness is the ability to take action and be ready before the occurrence of a financial, natural, or manmade disaster/emergency. This Youth Preparedness Council reports directly to the Individual and Community Preparedness Division of FEMA, as well as FEMA employees from all over at the regional and national headquarter levels. This Council is divided into three sub-teams: the Financial Preparedness Team, the Citizen Responder Team, and the Youth Preparedness Team. The Financial Preparedness Team is tasked with researching and providing resources as well as creating digital financial literacy toolkits to be distributed during the official FEMA National Financial Capability Month in April; the Citizen Responder Team creates step-by-step guides for future citizen responders interested in becoming involved in preparedness; the Youth Preparedness Team is responsible for kindling interest in preparedness among young youth utilizing fun and educational resources and materials. All the content and materials created by the YPC are thoroughly reviewed and edited by the FEMA staff in Washington, D.C.

HSToday: What was the selection process like, and how are YOU currently involved on the Council?

Banan: The selection process, which generally takes place during the early spring season, involved initial recommendation letters from two trusted adults, and at least eight brief application essays involving preparedness projects, interests, and leadership role experiences. After the initial application and review process, selected semi-finalists were invited to take part in a virtual interview. The virtual interview was the final step for selection to the reputable FEMA National Youth Preparedness Council. Officially selected members of the council were then assigned to one of the three sub-teams. Because of my past leadership experience among young youth, I was assigned to the Youth Preparedness Team. I assist in leading this team by arranging online team meetings to discuss project updates and proper communication among the members of my team. As a part of this team, I visit schools in my district as well as local libraries to promote preparedness in a unique way utilizing story/coloring books and games, such as the official FEMA Ready To Help card game. While leading the Youth Preparedness Team, I am also very involved in the other two sub-teams. Specifically, in the Citizen Responder Team, I have participated in virtual team meetings, as well as assisted in reviewing project outline materials. On the Financial Preparedness Team, I have contributed to the National Financial Capability Month preparations, which is held annually in April, by inspiring the creation of a graphic brochure and assisting in a video dedicated to National Financial Capability Month.

HSToday: How has this Council made an impact on you and the greater good?

Banan: I am beyond grateful to be a member of this council working alongside people who share a common goal of promoting preparedness. I encourage leaders who want to make an impact to their greater community and nation to apply to the FEMA National Youth Preparedness Council. Beyond making close friends with people across the nation, this council teaches the future youth of America how to professionally communicate to adults and potential stakeholders. As a part of the council, members have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., twice in the summer for the Youth Preparedness Council Summit in which members get together to make connections, and share their project accomplishments. This council, as well, provides youth the chance to create and implement preparedness projects at the community level and beyond with the support of the FEMA staff. In addition to the preparedness projects, members of the National FEMA Youth Preparedness Council along with regional and national headquarters FEMA employees commit to bi-monthly meetings. These meetings are a chance for the various sub-teams to provide project updates, as well as for FEMA Headquarters employees or stakeholders to provide professional development presentations, or general discussions to better aid the Council. In the Council’s most recent meeting, the impacts and prevention of the COVID-19 virus were discussed. My council members and I were advised to promote the Centers for Disease and Control’s page regarding steps to take for the prevention of spreading this virus.

HSToday: How does your involvement in this Council relate to the National Emergency of the current COVID-19 pandemic?

Banan: The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is an exponentially growing pandemic which has caused devastation to this nation and many American families. Established steps of preparedness, such as preparing an emergency food supply, emergency fund, and emergency first aid kits, helps to alleviate the stress of facing emergency situations. I am hopeful that from this pandemic rises the importance of being prepared for future emergency and disaster situations because they WILL happen — it is always just a matter of WHEN.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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