Red Cross Teen Volunteers Make Most of Disaster : Preparedness: 60 youths, some of whom served during recent emergencies, honed their skills at Tustin High drill.


Seventeen-year-old Maggie Long rushed around the Tustin High School gymnasium Saturday morning, overseeing teen-agers setting up 50 green and blue cots, organizing first aid, and helping to calm distressed “refugees.”

But Long, a Red Cross youth volunteer, wasn’t responding to a real-life calamity. Instead, she was practicing the role of a shelter manager in the aftermath of a mock 6.5 earthquake.

The “victims” she was helping were actually other Red Cross youth volunteers.

“We can’t simulate it perfectly, but when we do this they’ll at least have a vague idea of what happens,” said Peggy-Sue Ellis, the director of the Youth in Emergency Services section of the Orange County chapter of the Red Cross.


The teens playing the roles of pregnant, deaf and amnesiac survivors, as well as those acting as shelter workers, got a taste of disaster chaos.

Some of the 60 teen-agers who participated in Saturday’s drill had used earlier training in actual catastrophes.

A 15-year-old sophomore at Corona del Mar High School, Long helped set up the shelter at her campus during last fall’s Laguna Beach wildfire. And she put in several 12-hour days in January watching children and monitoring activities in a San Fernando Valley earthquake shelter.

“We got our shelter training just two days before the fire,” said Long, who is the vice president of her school’s Red Cross Club. “When I worked during the fire, people had money to find places to live. But in the earthquake, it was really sad. The earthquake took everything they had.”

Other county Red Cross chapters have teen-agers who are trained as disaster volunteers, but only Orange County has a separate section organized just for them.

About 1,700 county teen-agers have become volunteers by joining Red Cross clubs at their schools, where they were taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to stay calm during a campus emergency.

The teens are expected to know how to set up a shelter in their school’s gymnasium, call adult Red Cross volunteers and get more supplies. But they are also called upon in larger, communitywide emergencies such as the Laguna fire.

“It’s more than just administering bandages,” Hughes said as she oversaw Saturday’s drill. “It’s also self-esteem building. . . . They learn listening skills, how to take charge and how to delegate.”


Some teen-agers created a computer database listing which youth volunteers speak a second language in addition to English. Their foresight made it easy to find Spanish-speaking student volunteers to translate for some San Fernando Valley quake victims who spoke only Spanish. Others speak Korean, Mandarin and Polish.

“A lot of the kids who are bilingual and don’t speak English in their homes have always felt looked down upon,” Ellis said. “But when I call them up and say, ‘You’re the one person I need right now,’ that makes them feel empowered.”