Thursday, September 20, 2012

Center for Domestic Preparedness: Not Nearly as Scary As We Thought

At about 2:30 Thursday afternoon, as FEMA Corps was returning from a 10-minute break, the myth of "FEMA Strict" was busted forever.

That was when my teachers enlisted a bunch of Corps Members to crumple up pages from USA Today, dropped a pile of paper balls on each of the six tables, and... told us to go to war with each other. I thought it was going to be some sort of disaster-related exercise, but no: we were just supposed to blow off steam, six and a half hours into a long day of training. "This is big, bad Anniston? This is the place where they'll kick you out if you so much as sneeze?"

It turns out that the TLs were either exaggerating wildly or just had bad information throughout our NCCC training. Y'see, Anniston was the TLs' chosen stick throughout the month of CTI (Corps Training something-or-other). Talking in class? "That won't fly at Anniston." Walking in a minute late? "They'll run you right out the door for that in Anniston." And it only made sense, you know? This is a Department of Homeland Security facility we were talking about, the ominously innocuous-sounding Center for Domestic Preparedness. This is where they train people to respond to terrorist attacks. This is where people go to learn what to do in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. They have a terrifying statue of three faceless men in radiation suits dominating their lobby. Of course they would be total hardasses; that's their job, right?

Not even close. The CDP has been incredibly accomodating, both in terms of our training and our treatment. They let us raid the snack rooms and actually brought boxes of snacks into class today when the break rooms in a new building didn't have them. You're welcome to lean back in your chair, stand against the wall, whatever helps you learn; we have big comfy chairs to sit in, notebooks and post-its provided for us, whatever luxury you might want. And the training itself! Far from just sitting and being lectured, there are group activities, presentations in front of the class, frequent brainstorming sessions that allow us to think creatively about problems (and exercise our La Mettrie-style brain muscles). It's as non-traditional a classroom setting as I've yet seen, excluding high school Political Theory. Either law enforcement officers, firefighters, etc. have a lot more fun in their lives than I thought, or the CDP has adopted a totally different playbook to train this totally different type of unit that we, FEMA Corps, are.

And it's cool. They're still feeling their way, but the result is welcome. I loved the exercise where we took somebody's hometown (Michael's origin of Hustisford, WI) and brainstormed what would happen to the town in the event of a flood. Where are the highways in and out of town? What's the topographical layout; where's the high ground? What charitable organizations are based in town? Where could people gather in the event of a flood? I love that kind of stuff. Thinking creatively is my bread and butter in a school setting.

But the drawback to having a laissez-faire classroom is you get laissez-faire people. I've written before about how this class is smart, dedicated, idealistic, yadda yadda... but we're still 18-24-year-olds and you gotta take that into account. We suck at being in school. Nobody is good at school, but my age group is especially poor at it. If you give people my age room to slack off, we will... not out of malice or as a reasoned decision, but simply because we suck at staying focused on something that you have to really try to stay interested in. (The inner workings of FEMA and its bureaucratic organization are interesting as heck to me, but I'm in the minority on this one.)

It's a fine balance that they have to strike. Yes, it's cool and practical to give us some freedoms (I'm sure nobody wants to ride herd on 240 ostensible adults), and it undoubtedly will help us learn and absorb information... but we're still kids, even the oldest among us, and we still need to be prodded to learn. (Personal view--I don't know when adulthood happens, but for the past six years or so, it's been perpetually "a few years away" for me personally. I have no idea when people become adults. Do you have to fill out a form or something? Is that what mortgages are--no wonder the root 'mort', i.e. mortician, mortuary, morbid is in there!) Maybe they can tinker with it with the Vinton class, who's apparently coming in right behind us. And people will undoubtedly be more engaged when specialist-specific trainings start to happen next week. It's just something of a culture shock, given everything that we were told coming into Anniston.


Anonymous said...

Adult? I don't feel like an adult most of the time. (I'm 39.) So I am not sure if I will ever become an adult. I'll be old before I become an adult. ;)

corey actor said...

thank you for the heads up I'm in the Vinton class and everyone up here is pretty anxious to head out for the CDP

Andy said...

Rainbowheartlove: it's good to know that the feeling is universal. Corey: no problem! I'll try to keep the info coming.

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