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Cal OES Teaching Kids to Spread the Word of Preparedness

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Preparedness Ambassadors Program is aimed at reaching parents and communities through the education of elementary school students.

Empty chairs and desks in a classroom.
Educating the public about emergency preparedness is tricky. People are busy enough with their daily lives and often put disaster preparedness on the back burner as something they’ll do later.

They need to be reminded, and who better to do that than their kids? That’s one of the points of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Preparedness Ambassadors Program, which introduces elementary school students to emergency preparedness in the hopes that they’ll not only learn how to prepare, but also spread the word to others.

The program was developed by Cal OES in partnership with the California Department of Education, CalRecycle and the Sacramento County Office of Education.

The idea is to put on an event at a school and engage the students with some fun tools to learn preparedness with the hopes that it makes an indelible impression.

Cal OES most recently took its roadshow to Two Rivers Elementary School in Sacramento, where the 700 students engaged in activities such as doing crossword puzzles and word searches with disaster-related terms, and learning how to build an emergency go bag and what kinds of information to share with their friends, family and neighbors.

“It was a fantastic event,” Cal OES Emergency Services Coordinator Vanessa Vazquez said in a statement. “I believe that teaching 911 preparedness gives students the tools to know how to respond in any emergency. One of the highlights was witnessing the students engage with each other and share their insights on natural disasters.”

Two Rivers Elementary was one of 50 schools in 26 districts that have hosted the program.

The Cal OES Planning, Preparedness, and Prevention team works with its partner institutions to develop the curriculum. The team oversees the state’s emergency plans using a whole community approach through education and outreach with local, state and federal governments, tribes, businesses and members of the public.

The curriculum includes seven case studies from disasters, such as wildfires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes and power outages. The lessons are specifically targeted to a particular school and the most likely hazards in that area.

“The goal of the program is to engage students to develop and promote disaster preparedness for their household, school and community,” Davina Mapes, Cal OES public information officer, said in an email. “The students become ‘preparedness ambassadors’ for their community.”

Mapes said educating the kids is also a way to spark an interest in emergency management and inspire them to become the next generation of first responders and emergency management professionals.

The program encourages teachers and school administrators to develop a working relationship with local fire departments and other first responders and invite those agencies to visit the school and provide lessons that mirror the program’s curriculum. “It’s important to engage the whole community and give students the opportunity to hear firsthand from their local responders working in partnership with educators,” Mapes said.

The program offers free classroom resources, including a guide for teachers, a student notebook, a family readiness guide and an activity book that mirrors the curriculum as standalone lessons.

“Preparedness is a shared responsibility,” Mapes wrote. “It calls for the involvement of everyone — not just government entities — to keep Californians safe and resilient when disasters strike and the Preparedness Ambassadors Program is an excellent representation of emergency preparedness.”


Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.