Including Children in Emergency Preparedness Outreach
By Rebecca Zorn – CHHS Research Fellow
Ms. Zorn currently works as the Community Outreach Coordinator for Montgomery County's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security
Images from developing or impoverished countries that show collapsed schools following an earthquake due to poor building codes, or children being targeted on their way to class by extremist groups, are too often seen in international news. For some, it may be hard to acknowledge that children in the US could also face similar adversities at school, or even in our own backyards.
This past year, we saw child fatalities at the hands of an active shooter in Connecticut and more recently in Oklahoma following a massive tornado. While we certainly cannot prevent every man-made or weather-related disaster, when forming a strategy to teach the general public about emergency preparedness, it is important for emergency management professionals to consider ways to empower diverse groups to become their own advocates. Children, at times, may be disregarded from the preparedness message because it is assumed that adults will guide a child’s actions during an emergency. However, children also deserve to be taught about preparedness for many reasons.
First, learning about preparedness from a young age can instill good habits for the future. As they grow, children become more educated about how to respond to emergencies at school, home, and eventually in the workplace. Children may also educate their parents about preparedness information, progressing family preparedness plans, and encouraging parents to make emergency kits for their home. In the same manner, children may encourage and educate their peers, teachers, and neighbors about preparedness, supporting the spread of community preparedness.
Children, much like adults, should be ready to act appropriately should an emergency arise. They should feel empowered to take suitable actions and to inform adults of options if the adult has not been properly trained. Preparedness knowledge is also crucial to reduce panic and stress in emergency situations.
Preparedness messaging for children will certainly vary depending upon the child’s age. Regardless of age, messaging needs to be focused on confidence-building and assurance that safety measures are put into place to protect them. Preparedness messages should not focus on things that could go wrong – which will subsequently stir up fear and anxiety. However, as children grow older, more can be said about hazards and ways that they can take an active role in preparing for emergencies.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, a new goal of the public outreach program is to educate children about preparedness. Most recently, 19 boy scouts and 9 of their parents attended a presentation given by the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS), the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and the Police Department. Children were taught how to prepare themselves and their families, and how to assist vulnerable neighbors such as the elderly should a disaster occur. The message was universal preparedness, including step-by-step instructions on how to make a preparedness kit, without focusing on intimidating factors such as the causes of an emergency. OEMHS hopes that these presentations will prompt scouts to increase individual and family readiness, while urging the boys to educate neighbors and friends, increasing overall preparedness within the county.