By Yong-Bee Lim
As the past two years of disaster events have displayed, it is more important than ever for individuals, families, and organizations to prepare for self-sufficiency for extended periods of time. However, there is a universal human tendency to avoid thinking about negative events such as possible emergencies. This deliberate lack of attention to local emergency plans and personal emergency preparedness can be vividly seen in a 2006 study by “The Council for Excellence Government Report”. This report, composed post-Katrina, displayed that only a 1/3 of the population lacked knowledge of local government plans, roughly half did not have an alert emergency situation in their community, and only 8% of the public has done everything required to fully prepare supplies and plans for an emergency incident.
This lack of preparedness in the U.S. population is a large problem for a number of reasons. In emergency situations, a majority (52%) of Americans have reported the loss of electricity for 3 or more days. This, among other issues, creates a number of negative implications, which include:
2) Lack of food, whether in the household or the local grocery store
3) Diminished visual, security, and communication capability
These types of disruptions are likely to negatively impact populations as natural routines are disrupted. Furthermore, different types of disasters will occur in different areas of the United States; while earthquakes may occur more often in California, tornadoes may more likely affect the Midwestern regions. While parents are likely to be negatively affected by the effects of disaster incidents, children are likely to be affected more severely; due to their psychological, social and physical development differences, children are particularly vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness. The fact that children are exponentially impacted represents a problem as children comprise 25% of the U.S. population.
Emergency Preparedness: Child “Ambassadors”
While events such as natural and man-made disasters cannot be completely eliminated, there are ways to bolster emergency preparedness awareness and implementation. Furthermore, there are not only means to not only empower children by including them in the emergency planning and preparedness process, but means to actively engage children in the emergency planning and preparedness process. This not only provides children with the confidence to deal with unexpected situations, but also helps in mitigating feelings of anxiety and powerlessness in an actual emergency.
To this end, several interactive resources have been made available (both online and in educational settings) to impress, educate, and promote the importance of emergency preparedness in the youth population. Furthermore, as youth “ambassadors” of emergency preparedness, these youths can spark discussions, spur action, and educate their parents and communities about the importance and need to address all aspects of emergency planning and preparedness.
FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a number of sources to educate children in the importance and practices of emergency preparedness. Some of these include:
- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella: These two characters, crafted as ambassadors for children to teach emergency preparedness, promote students to be child ambassadors by provide information such as the necessary facts, plans, and instructions to build a kit for emergency purposes: http://www.ready.gov/flatstanley
- Teen CERT: The Teen Community Response Team is a 20-hour program that provides teenagers with both tacit and experiential learning in regards to readiness and response skills; beyond just relaying the information of their learning to others, these students gain techniques in controlling a variety of emergency-related situations: https://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/teencert/images/Teen_CERT_Brochure.pdf
1) Sesame Street [Let’s Get Together!]: This series of videos, documents and worksheets, all of which includes fun visuals and Sesame Street character cameos, engages both parents and children in the purpose of, efficacy, creation, and basic planning for emergencies: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/ready
2) American Red Cross’ [Master of Disaster]: This series of programs (numbering over 200), which are specifically tailored to lower elementary (K – 2), middle elementary (3 – 5), and middle school (6 – 8) are meant to educate children through a series of ready-to-go lesson plans that help students not only prepare for emergency events, but to also be able to adapt in the fact of unexpected events: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/school/preparedness-education
1) Virginia’s Emergency Preparedness: This document provides a step-by-step process for children and families to go through the emergency preparedness process, as well as offer resources in the State of Virginia for emergency issues: http://www.chkd.org/documents/CareConnections/EmergencyPreparednessforFamilies.pdf
2) Texas’ Project SECURE Gulf Coast [through CIDRAP]: This project developed a disaster curriculum for Houston schools intended to promote preparedness education for children, and between children and families. An ambassador (known as the Disaster Ambassador Preparedness Program [DAPP]) was created to educate schoolchildren who, in turn, educated their parents. Learned skilled included how to make a family emergency plan, items to store in a family emergency supply kit, ways to receive up-to-date information during a disaster, and how to sign up for transportation assistance: http://www.publichealthpractices.org/practice/curriculum-trains-children-act-disaster-preparedness-ambassadors-their-families
While these programs have yet to display true efficacy data (through the use of a longitudinal study), the results of projects (like Project SECURE) appear to display significant improvements in both emergency planning and preparedness. Following the 2-year Project SECURE program, many families have followed recommended guidelines for emergency planning and preparedness for hurricanes, and the program is to be continued at the schools it was implemented at.
While man-made and natural disaster incidents are difficult to speak of due to a number of emotional and ethical reasons, it is clear that properly advanced preparation and planning is the key to mitigating the harm that might arise from any form of incident. It is, therefore, important to instill the concepts of emergency planning and preparedness early in our nations’ youth. These youth, who will end up being our future, will also be empowered to aid their families and communities with the knowledge they have been given.
 RCPEM Online. http://www.rcpcem.com/assets/docs/Disaster%20Denial.pdf
 The Council for Excellence in Government Online. Accessed 12/12/12. http://www.citizencorps.gov/downloads/pdf/ready/pri_report.pdf
 CDC Online. Accessed 12/19/12. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/poweroutage/needtoknow.asp
 AAP Online. Accessed 12/19/12. http://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/files/pdf/InfantNutritionDisaster.pdf
 Columbus Community Hospital Online. Accessed 12/19/12. http://www.preped.org/Resources/20Wkstockpiling.pdf
 APA Online. Accessed 12/12/12. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/children-trauma-tips.aspx
 ChildStats Online. Accessed 12/20/12. http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop1.asp