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FEMA Girl Scout Day Aims to Prepare Youngsters for Disaster

FEMA’s third annual event provides Girl Scouts the opportunity to interact with FEMA staff and take part in hands-on activities that convey important lessons for disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.

Girl Scouts
FEMA Region V Mitigation Outreach Specialist Laurie Smith-Kuypers with scouts on Girl Scouts Day.
Surveys consistently indicate that most adults are not prepared for a potential disaster even though they may realize there is a likelihood of being affected by one in the very near future.

That’s why FEMA’s Region V Girl Scout Day is more than just fun and games. It’s a way to engage young people who are eager to learn and educate them about the importance of disaster preparedness and hope they go home and educate mom and dad and eventually become prepared adults as well.

The third annual event was held June 1, at the FEMA Region V offices in Chicago where FEMA staff was joined by the American Red Cross to provide training and some fun, educational games that demonstrate some important lessons to the local Chicago Girl Scout chapter.

The 38 in girls in attendance played a telephone game; participated in a water table activity; learned first aid; and developed family communication plans and disaster supply kits. In doing so, they earned their first aid badges and disaster readiness fun patches designed by FEMA.

“The overall goal is to enable these kids to take preparedness steps in their lives and become more prepared for disasters,” said Kimberly Hayward, FEMA Region V community preparedness officer. “There’s a lot of research that shows that if we engage kids at a young age, not only will we reach them, but they’re more likely to take that information home to their parents as well.”
The lessons are interactive and get the girls involved hands-on to help burnish the concept much more so than classroom instruction might.

In the telephone game, for instance, the girls are divided into groups and pass information, such as a weather alert, from one group to the next. In all likelihood, the information has changed by the time it reaches the last group, teaching the kids the importance of having accurate data and messaging.

The water table game allows the girls to develop a physical model community and exchange a parking lot with a retention pond and a wetland to get an understanding of how water behaves in different situations and on different surfaces. The scouts have little model homes they can move around the community and understand what part of the community is in danger and why during a possible flood.

“So, when the individual who runs the activity changes out the [model figures], the girls can see how each affects the houses,” Hayward said. “They can create levees and dams out of clay and move the little houses around.”

FEMA issues “communication cards” that the scouts decorate and write down important information on, like vital phone numbers and meeting places. “Obviously, the hope is they go home and talk about that with their parents,” Hayward said.

The kids also get to interact with comfort dogs that are used to help during disasters. “We partner with a local organization that brings out comfort dogs after a disaster,” said Hayward. “We have them bring the dogs to the event and explain what they do and why, that the dogs are non-human helpers that aid with emotional comfort during a traumatic event.”

Hayward said the disaster preparedness message is taught from a holistic point of view — it’s preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. “Anything that might happen so the girls can feel empowered to deal with these sorts of situation on their own and be ready to take on a leadership role themselves if something happens.”