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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Two Model “Prep” School Programs

February 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Speaking of preparedness education in the schools, two good examples — focusing on widely different ages — were brought to my attention recently: 1) the Student Tools for Emergency Planning (STEP) program at the Thompson Brook School in Avon, Connecticut for fifth graders, and 2) an earthquake readiness program at the University of California, Berkeley for college students. Both are innovative programs which work with the local fire departments and smartly attempt to make preparedness a fun, manageable and rewarding experience for the participants. Each offers a good model for their respective age groups:

The STEP program is, according to a FEMA news release:

A joint effort between Connecticut Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and FEMA, the program offers a ready-to-teach preparedness lesson that empowers students to encourage their families to make home emergency kits and communications plans. Students also received items to make their own ’starter’ kit; including a water bottle, snack bar, emergency whistle, Mylar blanket, and carrying bag…

Students also participated in a few rounds of the “Disaster Dudes Game”, a quiz-show portion of the STEP program that tested their knowledge of what to do in different emergency situations. Their correct answers along with their emergency posters displayed outside the auditorium were evidence of their readiness to handle all types of hazards. The Student Tools for Emergency Planning Program will be repeated in Avon, CT next year, with plans to expand to about 30 schools total in the state, according to the Connecticut Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

In the California-Berkeley program, as described in a recent Government Technology article: 

More than 2,000 students at Cal receive basic supplies, like a generator, goggles, fire extinguisher, portable lights and two-way radios…The students also receive training in at least some of the following courses: basic preparedness, fire suppression, light search and rescue, disaster first aid, disaster mental health, radio communications and incident command systems…

Ten percent of each house’s members must take additional training classes before a student group receives its supplies…The class a student takes may be based on his or her major. For instance, an engineering student may be most interested in the “light search and rescue” class because it teaches how to use mechanical advantage, like taking plywood boards or long beams to help lift coffee tables or bookcases off someone, or how to brace up a building that’s partially collapsed…They can take a traditional 35- to 45-minute course taught by the Berkeley Fire Department or do it remotely via a podcast. 

One of the organizers explained the idea behind the program to the magazine:

“If one takes care of himself or herself, that’s one person we don’t have to provide rescue, food, water or shelter for…And if we get one person to educate their community block, then the community block or neighborhood organization takes care of themselves.” This is the idea in training and equipping student organizations.

And he has plans for one particular student group:

“Can you imagine if you gave me the Cal football team to rescue people with their size, their stamina? Because then I can take 10 firefighters and create 10 groups, and divide up the soccer, football, volleyball players or whoever, into 10 larger response groups,” Dong said. “It only takes one firefighter to direct a group of people. They expand our first responder resources within our community. If I can get that entire student population prepared, they become the best volunteers for me.”

(Thanks to Arnold Bogis for sending me this article.)

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Tags: Education

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Michelle Collins // Feb 25, 2009 at 11:58 am


    I work for FEMA and have helped roll out the STEP (Student Tools for Emergency Planning Program). We partnered with our emergency management agencies in each of the 6 states to initiate STEP in 36 schools across New England.

    The STEP program teaches students at the 4th or 5th grade level basic skills for dealing with common emergencies and results in students building emergency kits and family communication plans at home. Students receive student “starter” emergency backpacks with emergency supply items such as a bottle of water, emergency blanket and flashlight.

    Participating schools are required to teach the 1-hour base lesson utilizing a fun 14-minute movie called “The Adventures of the Disaster Dudes”. There are supplemental lessons teachers can choose from to reinforce that base lesson.

    This program is being offered at no cost to schools and we are currently looking for additional schools to add to the participant list for the 2009-2010 school year. If your school district is interested, please reach out to your state emergency management agency or you can email directly at

    Thank you

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