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FEMA Preparedness Road Show gets high five from kids

Public Affairs Specialist Neily Chapman shows children some of the items to pack in a disaster kit during a FEMA classroom presentation
Public Affairs Specialist Neily Chapman shows children a disaster kit during a FEMA classroom presentation
Program educates children on preparing for and preventing disasters

Nearly 2,000 children in Mississippi's lower six counties know a little more about preparedness thanks to the FEMA in the Classroom program.

The Mississippi program developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency educates and involves children in disaster preparedness as a way to also engage parents and growcommunity awareness.

The school program began in January 2008 and now reaches out to 4-H Clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs, a variety of summer day camps, two senior centers and most recently, the Harrison County Library System.

FEMA employees Jennifer Smits, Neily Chapman and Nathan Alvarez perform puppet shows and facilitate hands-on activities and team-oriented question-answer games imitating the popular television game show Jeopardy to deliver disaster preparedness messages to young people.

Their preparedness message goes hand in hand with a discussion on mitigation, the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Both are key to staying alive and being self-sustaining during and after a disaster.

Besides the enthusiastic in-class response, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from teachers, ranging from "well-prepared" to "much needed" and "wonderful."

"FEMA focuses on disaster preparedness as a way of life," said Mississippi Recovery Office Acting Director, Alec Watson. "What better way to accomplish this than to incorporate the message in a learning environment."

The program is available in several levels based on audience age. The troupe presents the puppet show to pre-school, kindergarten and early elementary age students. Fourth- and fifth-graders create disaster kit collages with pictures from newspapers. The program shows older elementary students how to navigate the Internet to find FEMA for Kids at or the Department of Homeland Security's where preparedness information is presented in easy-to-understand and fun formats.

"This program plays an important part in expanding the message to a broader audience while moving the focus beyond hurricanes," said MEMA Director Mike Womack. "The puppet shows are an especially creative and fun way to spread disaster preparedness information to people all over Mississippi."

Most requests are for the puppet show, "Three Little Pigs, A Mitigation Story, a cautionary tale about lessons learned from building homes safe and strong to escape danger and as a way to stay prepared.

"It's a precious puppet show and the kids really grasp what they're being told. They need to know what to do to get through the next storm," said Melissa Lucas of Children and Youth Services at the Jerry Lawrence Library in D'Iberville. Lucas lost a home in Hurricane Camille and then again in Katrina.

To find out more about FEMA in the Classroom program, call Jennifer Smits on (228) 594-3156.

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