Disasters impact children and youth across the United States. But when they prepare and practice for an emergency, it improves their ability to take immediate action. With training, they can actively take part in preparedness in their communities, from home to school. But students, teachers, and parents know that between classes, testing, and extracurriculars, making the time can be challenging.
That is just one reason many schools have begun using Student Tools for Emergency Planning (STEP). FEMA piloted STEP in 2008 for fourth and fifth grade classrooms. STEP’s basic lessons are only an hour long. Students learn skills to build an emergency kit and a family communications plan. These basic lessons taught together build the foundation for the program, or can stand alone.
Then, teachers can add lessons about disasters that might happen in their area. STEP includes lessons about fires, severe weather (including extreme heat and cold, tornadoes, and hurricanes), and earthquakes. There are also lessons to include geography, science, English, art, and math. Throughout, instructors can use STEP’s Disaster Dodgers video series, handouts, homework assignments, and classroom activities to bring the lessons to life. These features make it adaptable on every level, from the classroom to the state program level.
However, flexibility alone is often not enough. The most expansive programs have champions and support throughout the educational system. For example, Michigan’s State Police support STEP in their state. Community service troopers are even known to stop by classrooms to help teach. In Wisconsin, Ready Wisconsin supports STEP at the state level. Among other tasks, they register programs and provide emergency starter kits for students.
Ready Wisconsin also promotes STEP in outreach events, such as Weather Day at Miller Park in Milwaukee. This event brings thousands of students to the team’s baseball field to learn about severe weather that affects the region. While their students are learning about severe weather, teachers can learn about programs like STEP. This year, representatives from Ready Wisconsin and FEMA explained the program and shared STEP supply bags. They also discussed how teachers could take STEP back to their classrooms. But it’s not just teachers. Students can also return to the classroom when they are older to teach younger kids. Haily Dudzinski, for example, grew up before STEP took off in Wisconsin, where she lives. She learned about preparedness from her parents, and even followed father’s footsteps to became an amateur (ham) radio operator. Now, as a member of FEMA Region 5’s Youth Preparedness Council, she supports STEP in the classroom and at outreach events, like Weather Day at Miller Park. She also helps deliver STEP’s foundational lessons in schools. However, she also likes that STEP allows teachers to spend more time on local disasters, like flooding. After last year’s floods in the state, she says, many students have experienced a flood or know someone who was affected by one.
In both states, these partnerships have supported thousands of students to take part in the program. But the benefits are felt beyond the students. Households with schoolchildren who bring home preparedness materials are much more likely to report preparing than those who did not. And, according to the 2016 National Household Survey, households with children were more likely to have done home drills and discuss a household emergency plan than those without children.
To learn more about STEP, visit Ready.gov/youth-preparedness and download the materials here.