It’s a wintery Thursday night in Dunedin, with chilly temperatures and dark streets keeping most residents at home. But the lights are still on in the Red Cross building, where a group of young people dressed up in orange overalls are happily chatting away.

Suddenly, the cheerful conversations are interrupted by the blow of a whistle and an orange wave quickly makes its way outside the building as the young people brave the cold.

The team is informed that there has ‘just been an earthquake’ and multiple injured people are in the building. Tonight’s task is to find these people as quickly as possible and, as the first responders on the scene, help them.

Thursday nights are always full of mock scenarios like this one for these participants to New Zealand Red Cross’ Youth Emergency Preparedness Programme (YEPP). Situations like an earthquake, flood or even car accident are worked into exercises tailored to teach young people skills to prepare them to respond to an emergency.

“YEPP teaches us how to keep safe in an emergency,” explains 15-year-old Prianca. “I now know what to do if there’s an emergency, like flooding which happens often here, and how to keep my family safe.

“If it’s too severe, we would evacuate. If not, we make sure we have an emergency kit with supplies in it.” 

Prianca, using the radio during a YEPP exercise.

Given how disaster-prone New Zealand is, the intent of YEPP is to have more people who are prepared and know what do to in a disaster, so Kiwis are ultimately better off when one hits. Beside natural disasters, skills gained through YEPP are also useful in the participants’ everyday life. 

“It’s very good life skills that everyone should know, like DRSABC – very basic first aid you want to know. The facilitators make the activities very fun and you bond a lot with your teammates. It’s very active, everyone gets involved,” shares 17-year-old Iona, who is team leader this evening.

Iona, the team leader tonight.

A team of three – Prianca, Wafa and John – heads into the building looking out for dangers, opening doors and calling out for a response from injured people. Up the stairs, they find someone lying down on the floor under some furniture. Keeping the dangers surrounding them in mind, the first responders check if the casualty is conscious. Luckily she is, but she is injured and can’t move, so more help is needed. John gets on the radio to let the team leader know of the situation and request an ambulance.

Everyone gets involved, discussing the best course of action and the general care required to help the injured person. Responding to an emergency also requires being confident, listening, participating and taking the lead – key skills YEPP focuses on.

“It has helped my confidence a lot. I come from Syria and this helps with my English and making new friends. I liked using the stretcher, but it was a little bit hard and it was actually scary at first!”, says 15-year-old Wafa with a big smile.

 “I like YEPP because they teach me new things, how I can help other people. For example, there is a lot of things happening in front of us, and many people don’t know what to do, so it’s good to teach us as youth to do these things.” 

Wafa knows that other youth could also benefit from this training, and wants to encourage them to apply for the programme.’

 “Other young people should get involved because it’s a good thing. First, it helps you with a lot of things, like dangers around us and that disasters or emergencies can happen anytime, so we learn here to always be prepared.”

Wafa taking care of her casualty.

In the Red Cross building, the youths are still on the move. Another team of young people has arrived to help the trio. Collectively they decide to place the casualty on a stretcher and bring her outside. All seven work together to carefully slide a blanket under the casualty and transfer them to the stretcher. The teamwork continues as they carry the stretcher down the narrow stairs, each participant playing an important role in the process.

Once the simulation is over, giggles, observations and lessons are shared between the participants and the facilitators who have been watching. It’s all about empowering young people to act in an emergency, as well as to speak up about their personal experience.

Participants of YEPP all have different motivations for turning up every Thursday night, but all value the activities they get to be part of and the skills they pick up.

 “I like coming back because I learn a lot and gain good experience. It’s better than playing the PlayStation,” says John. “I reckon it’s good if kids join because they are the future generation and people who can know first aid and help people.”

Wafa and John debriefing on their evening.

Most of the youth involved are eager to join our Disaster Welfare Support Team as soon as they are 18, the minimum joining age. Our disaster response team members train all year round, preparing to respond to disaster in their community and around New Zealand. Many YEPP participants in Dunedin have become Red Cross volunteers, supporting Kiwis affected by floods, earthquake and fires across the crountry.