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Emergency office to be home of Explorer post for youths

When the next hurricane hits, residents may find themselves being helped by teenagers.

The Hernando County Emergency Management Office is the newest site for an Explorer post, a Boy Scout group that offers young men and women firsthand knowledge about careers.

County commissioners approved the request last week from emergency management officer David Casto.

The post will join one at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Some area fire stations also sponsor posts.

Having a post affiliated with emergency management is a "win-win situation," said Casto, who cited that as one of his goals when he was interviewed for the job last fall.

"They get to see what emergency management is all about," he said. "At the same time, it allows us access to these young adults to use their abilities for education."

Explorers began in the 1950s as a program for older Scouts. It was opened to young women in the 1970s, said Larry Brown, director of the Gulf Ridge Boy Scout Council, which encompasses Hernando, Citrus and part of Pasco and Hillsborough counties, as well as several other counties.

"It's one of our best-kept secrets," Brown said.

Groups, called posts, are sponsored by local companies or agencies and provide opportunities for participants to examine careers.

Popular posts are sponsored by law enforcement and firefighting agencies, as well as law firms and some newspapers.

"We found a lot of youth need a lot of career orientation away from the school setting," Brown said. Though the posts are sponsored by one group, the material covered is broad enough to encompass related fields. For example, a rescue squad might sponsor a post, but members may also learn about medical careers such as nursing and radiology, as well as what it takes to be a paramedic.

To decide where to open posts, Scout officials survey students to see where their interests lie.

They recently have noticed many are interested in emergency management, which is why Casto's office got involved.

"Scouts recently started targeting emergency management offices through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross," Casto said.

A pilot program in Boulder, Colo., proved so successful that the program expanded to other emergency management groups around the country.

Casto said he thinks the emergency management offices are becoming popular posts because many colleges are offering that as a field of study.

Casto expects his Explorers will be able to assist with educational programs and with disaster response. No young people would be put in harm's way, but they could perform support services.

"After a storm is passed, we can use them for neighborhood canvassing, damage assessment, registering volunteers and people with special needs," Casto said. "These are administrative but important tasks."

To get his post running, Casto needs adult volunteers. No special training is necessary, but volunteers must pass a background check and be screened by the Boy Scouts of America.

Casto plans to meet with adult volunteers at 7 p.m. April 9. A meeting place will be announced later. He plans to meet with young people May 8.

Those seeking information may call Casto at 754-4083.

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