STANWOOD — What looked to be blood ran down teenagers’ faces as they wandered through the misty green forest, fire engine sirens wailing in the background.
For anyone who happened by, it probably looked scary. The reality is, no one was in danger. It was just a day-in-the-life of what amounted to disaster camp.
A group of about 40 teenagers gathered at Stanwood’s Camp Killoqua last week to learn about emergency management. It was the first-ever summer camp hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
Campers were in grades 8 to 12. They did traditional camp activities, such as tie-dying T-shirts, but also took part in a series of life-saving scenarios over several days.
On Wednesday, they learned about fire equipment from the Marysville Fire District and watched the Washington National Guard practice a helicopter rescue.
It turned out to be Cassidy Miller’s favorite day of camp.
Miller, 16, goes to Stanwood High School. She hopes to someday be a school district transportation director and wanted to learn ways to keep students safe.
Before she knew about the camp, Miller had taken a similar preparedness course through the school district. She heard about the FEMA program through a local TV news station.
She was one of about 200 students from four states to apply. In all, 40 were chosen.
Part of the application process was to plan a project to complete once camp ends. Miller’s idea is to start school bus earthquake drills in Stanwood, when other natural disaster drills take place.
“I feel that’s important if we are caught in one of the big magnitude (9.0s),” she said.
Miller traveled less than 10 miles for camp, while many others had to board a plane.
Everyone came from one of four states that makes up FEMA Region 10: Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
Ilyssa Plumer is FEMA’s regional community preparedness officer. One of her jobs was to assess all of the campers’ applications.
Most came from Alaska. That could be because of the 7.0 earthquake in the Anchorage area last November.
“I think that kind of hit home, the importance of this,” Plumer said. “A lot of the campers actually experienced that big earthquake and realized, we want to be more confident in what to do.”
FEMA hopes to host the youth camp in Alaska next year.
The agency paid for most of the campers’ costs, including plane tickets. One reason Camp Killoqua was chosen as the first-year location is because of its proximity to the agency’s regional offices in Bothell.
Scott Zaffram, FEMA’s regional Federal Preparedness Coordinator, was one of the first to come up with idea of a youth camp.
He’s responded to multiple natural disasters in recent years, and has noticed that young people aren’t often called on after those kinds of events.
He hopes the camp helps teenagers feel confident working with adults in the case there’s an emergency where they live.
The Pacific Northwest is especially vulnerable to earthquakes. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a fault that stretches from Vancouver, B.C., to California, through Washington. It could someday unleash a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.
Zaffram wanted to give the teens space to practice emergency response in a supportive environment, well before they may need to use skills they’ve learned.