Kevin Shinn is the EAST Facilitator for Huntsville High School and is in his 30th year in education. Kevin has a degree in Emergency Administration Management and has been a firefighter for more than 30 years. He also serves in a variety of leadership roles for the American Red Cross in Arkansas.
By Kevin Shinn
EAST Facilitator, Huntsville High School
We know at some point this year a community in the United States will be devastated by a natural or man-made disaster. Tornadoes drop out of the sky unexpectedly; flood waters envelope entire communities and earthquakes lurk beneath the Earth’s surface with the potential to destroy an entire region. Beyond the ominous threat of Mother Nature lies the destruction imposed on humanity by mankind. Accidents happen as trains derail, fires consume, vehicles collide, machines fail and workers make mistakes. Perhaps worst of all, evil people with ill intent will choose to harm others; at times even our children are the targets of their viciousness.
Naturally, we hope when these tragic events occur, the best-trained emergency responders, armed with the best equipment available, will respond quickly to mitigate damage and save lives. Experience, however, tells us this is not always the case. Far too often, the scale of the disaster is too great for the emergency resources at hand, or responders and their equipment are caught up in the devastation themselves.
Some events to consider:
Statistics show floods are the number one natural disaster in the U.S. All 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods. Flash floods often bring walls of water 10- to 20-feet-high yet even just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater. Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. with approximately 200 drownings per year. Of those, just over 50 percent are vehicle-related.
Roughly 17 million people live in what is known as Tornado Alley, an area that spans across eight states in the middle of our country. Although it covers just 15 percent of the U.S., this area suffered nearly 30 percent of all confirmed tornadoes between 1950 and 2012 averaging 268 tornadoes per year. There were 5,587 confirmed fatalities during that period with 1,110, or about 20 percent, occurring in Tornado Alley. Statistics for tornado-related injuries are even higher. For the same period, there were 64,054 injuries reported across the U.S., averaging approximately 1,000 per year. Twenty-four percent of those injuries occurred in Tornado Alley. While only two percent of tornadoes were deadly nationwide, some were hugely destructive.
An average of 16,375 teenagers aged 12-19 years died in the U.S. every year from 1999 to 2006. The leading cause of death among teenagers was from accidents (unintentional injuries), accounting for nearly one-half of all teenage deaths. As a category of accidents, motor vehicle fatality is the leading cause of death to teenagers, representing over one-third of all deaths.
Our hearts remain tinged with grief when we hear names like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Jonesboro and the list stretches on like that long, black train. Every year, somewhere in this country, school violence will claim the lives of our children, teachers and others in a senseless attack.
National Service Project
One constant that holds true in all of these situations is that with proper planning and preparation lives can be saved and suffering reduced. It is with this reality in mind the focus of this year’s National Service Project (NSP) is so significant: “Ready, Set, Plan: Emergency Planning and Preparedness.”
The untapped potential of our nation’s youth is a renewable resource waiting to be utilized in making our world a better place. EAST provides our young people an avenue to not only explore their potential but to realize the fruits of their own labor and we are all the richer for it. The student-driven, project-based focus on solving real world problems is an excellent forum for our students to step out of the classroom and into their communities to make a difference.
Teaching people to recognize the threats they face in their everyday lives and arming them with informed options empowers them to make life-saving choices that make a difference when time counts.
Unfortunately, we cannot always have the best-trained emergency responders armed with the best equipment available when disaster strikes. By unleashing our students and their vast capacity for problem solving, they can make a difference. This time next year, we will be sharing stories about our students from across the EAST universe who made a difference in their communities by saving lives and reducing suffering as a direct result of their innovative approaches and hard work.
I have had the honor of being the state chairman for the American Red Cross Rapid Response Team Project in Arkansas for the last decade. In this role I have had the distinct privilege of witnessing hundreds of high school students from across our great state being trained in emergency management skills who go into careers in emergency services or the medical field, or who find themselves in circumstances using their skills to help others. In case after case, I have watched what young people can do when they are motivated, educated and dedicated to make a difference. It is inspiring.
My father, Harry F. Shinn, was a career educator and a volunteer firefighter who would often say, “Education is not a passive experience.” He believed it was essential for educators to engage our students in their own learning because when they take ownership of it, they have pride in it and in themselves. He was right and this year’s National Service Project is an excellent example of that philosophy because it empowers our youth to make a significant contribution with their talents and skills to help others.
President John F. Kennedy said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”
Whether through community education presentations, training young people in emergency response skills, collaborating with members in their community to develop shelters or warning systems or bringing awareness to their peers about the dangers they face and ways to stay safe, EAST students everywhere will be changing the world for the better.