A Focus on Preparedness

By Cathleen Ann Steg
Photographs by Walter P. Calahan

The Baltimore Area Council teams up with the Red Cross and other emergency organizations for a mega-camporee to increase crisis readiness.

Shortly before dawn on Saturday, sheets of rain pounded the Scout campsites set up on the infield of the grandstand at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

Earlier, on Friday afternoon and evening, hundreds of Scouts and leaders had pitched their tents at the fairgrounds in Timonium to be ready for a spectacular encampment called "Be Prepared Central Maryland." Thousands more, including Cub Scouts and family members, were preparing to arrive and spend the day.

A demonstration of putting out a car fire showed Scouts the importance of firefighter teamwork.

No amount of rain was going to dampen their enthusiasm for the October weekend event organized by the BSA's Baltimore Area Council and the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"The weather seems almost fitting," said event chairman Phil White, as the hour for Saturday morning's opening ceremony approached. "And if we're going to be teaching folks how to deal with emergencies, we certainly have to show that we're able to handle a little rain."

Emergency preparedness was a timely theme for a camporee, because only weeks earlier the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had dominated the news. However, the encampment had been in the works long before those natural disasters hit the Gulf Coast and southeastern United States.

"Being prepared for disaster was a driving force in creating the encampment," White noted, "but rather than the recent hurricanes, this event was due more to the lingering effects of Sept. 11, 2001, and the nation's attitude since then toward possible emergencies."

He pointed out that Scouters had indicated in a 2003 survey a preference for a councilwide event featuring a program "where [emergency] professionals could demonstrate their expertise and unit members could gain some."

Common ground

A 2003 national training partnership agreement between the BSA and the American Red Cross helped to inspire the Baltimore Area Council and regional Red Cross chapter to partner in creating a preparedness encampment.

The result was a one-day program offering just about every kind of training and information Scout leaders had requested in their survey responses.

Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts participated in a variety of activity pin and merit badge sessions focusing on first aid, emergency preparedness, and crime prevention. And they tried out equipment at exhibits set up by dozens of community safety and emergency groups.

Some Scouts explained that the aftermath of "the hurricane" had caused them to want to learn more about disaster relief and rescue.

They weren't talking about the more recent Katrina or Rita, but rather "the Maryland hurricane—Isabel," explained Ian Young, a Scout with Troop 328 in Timonium. In 2003, he and thousands of other Marylanders experienced that hurricane's destructive power.

"We lost power for about a week after Isabel," Ian recalled.

At the preparedness encampment, Scout leaders were as busy as their Scouts in learning skills and gaining information. Some 26 Scouters earned cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification from Red Cross personnel, while others attended workshops on the BSA's Safe Swim Defense plan, Climb on Safely, Youth Protection program, and other safety and emergency preparedness programs.

"What's nice about this event is that everybody—youth and adults—could receive training from the experts," observed event chairman White, who serves on the boards of both the Scout council and the Red Cross chapter.

Showing how it's done

For new Cub Scout Zekiah Patillo of Pack 970, Randallstown, Md., the most fun came when he took a ride on a gurney through a "decontamination tent" set up by the fire and rescue department of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"They spray all the bad stuff off you!" Zekiah related after professional rescuers had demonstrated their decontamination equipment on him during his gurney ride.

Zekiah was impressed enough to decide he wanted a similar career someday. "I want to work in an emergency field, just like these guys," he declared.

Dozens of other rescue organizations earned similar admiration throughout the day. Among the most popular were the Mason-Dixon Rescue Dogs, including Ripley, a German shepherd.

Boy Scout Shawn Wurzberger of Troop 550, Linthicum Heights, Md., enjoyed playing tug-of-war with Ripley while hearing about the skills of these canine heroes, who even learn to climb ladders to save people in need.

Airport fire and rescue department personnel Michelle Collins (left) and Wayne Pyle take Pack 970 Cub Scout Zekiah Patillo on a gurney ride through a "decontamination tent."

Though their attention was naturally captured by the thrill of seeing firefighters douse a blazing car, then pry off its doors and roof to save the occupants, some boys were able to grasp the deeper message behind such dramatic demonstrations.

For example, Kevin Callahan of Baltimore's Troop 16 was impressed with the way the rescuers worked together as a unit.

"Of all the things I've learned about [responding to] emergencies today," he said, "the most important is the need to communicate. The way rescue crews have a plan for telling each other when to do this and when to do that is really impressive."

In a building near the grandstand where he had spent half the day renewing his CPR training, Scoutmaster Rick Shaw of Troop 828, Lutherville, Md., agreed that communication is an important element of preparedness. For that purpose, his troop has organized a "phone tree" for Scouts to pass emergency news from one to another.

In an emergency, "our troop can become a resource for the community," he explained. "And, because of what we've seen and learned this weekend, we could band together and provide even more useful services," he added.

Troop 828's assistant Scoutmaster Rob Bitting also completed CPR training at the October encampment, while Scoutmaster Shaw has been trained in CPR since the mid-1970's and has served as a first-aid instructor.

Scouts in Troop 828 are showing an increased interest in dealing with emergencies, Bitting noted. As evidence, he cited a changing trend in the choice Scouts make when faced with the option of earning either Lifesaving or Emergency Preparedness as one of the merit badges required for the Eagle Scout Award.

"In the past year, about three-fourths of our Scouts opted to earn the Emergency Preparedness badge instead of Lifesaving," he said.

A chance to do something

Besides learning preparedness skills, participants had at least two opportunities to alleviate emergency needs through contributions.

For one, they donated 1,870 pounds of food during the encampment to the Baltimore Area Council's Scouting For Food drive.

And at Red Cross World, a large display area created by the Central Maryland chapter, visitors could donate blood.

Donor chairs were full all day with Scouters. Having a facility at the encampment made giving blood convenient, said a donor, Dave Dieter, assistant den leader of Pack 26, Baltimore.

Despite the weather, these volunteers—both those giving blood and those running the drive—had come to the encampment in an effort to help save lives in some way.

As event chairman Phil White noted at the closing ceremony that evening, "Emergencies can happen at any time. To make the difference between life and death—that's why we're here today."

Contributing editor Cathleen Ann Steg lives in Fairfax, Va.

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