MEMA teaches Starkville youth disaster awareness

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

A series of characters came to the Starkville Boys and Girls Club Thursday to teach the children disaster awareness and preparedness for potential disasters in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency offered the presentation through their MEMA 4 Kids campaign, which aims to bring disaster awareness to children in elementary school.

MEMA 4 Kids program Manager Davina Studley said the campaign has already reached at least 20,000 children across Mississippi in the past two years.

One reason MEMA decided to start the campaign was the lack they saw in disaster preparedness education for younger ages.

The campaign is built around a series of characters who teach the lesson. The protagonists, Delta the Disaster Dog and his daughter Pearl the Preparedness Pup, journey through Mississippi to learn about the state’s potential hazards from characters who are experts on each disaster.

The characters— and their specialties— are:

• Shaky the Earthworm: earthquakes
• Rainey the Raccoon: flooding
• Twisty the Turtle: tornadoes
• Gusty the Seagull: hurricanes
• Icy the Owl: winter weather

The lesson also includes Jake the Mitigation Wizard who teaches the children different methods to reduce the impact of potential disasters.

“Disasters are stressful for everyone, especially on children,” Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Kristen Campanella said. “By using characters, it gets their attention.”

Campanella believes if people learn disaster preparedness as children, the knowledge will stay with them throughout their lives.

“Children are a great asset in preparedness,” Campanella said. “Teaching them how to prepare for emergencies at an early age ensures good preparedness practices as adults.”

During the Starkville lesson, the children learned how to build an emergency supply kit.

An unofficial poll by the Starkville Daily News indicated only 22 percent of the 89 participants had a storm preparedness kit in their homes.

Delta told pearl to prepare a kit in the event of a power outage or if the weather keeps her from leaving her home.

Emergency kits should be stocked for a three-day time period.

MEMA recommended the children include the following items in their kits:
• One gallon of water per person per day
• Non-perishable food per person per day with can opener
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Noaa weather radio with tone alert
• Flashlight
• Fist aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Important family documents: birth certificates, insurance
• Medications
• Garbage bags for trash
• Moist towelettes for personal sanitation
• Extra batteries

Campanella said any emergency plan will differ based on the individual or the individual family.

“An example of that individuality would be the type of emergency kit you have,” Campanella said. “If you have children, you may want to include coloring books or activities to keep them occupied or include their favorite book or toy.”

After the presentation, each child was awarded a “Disaster prepared” certificate. “Education on preparedness makes us all more resilient, enhancing our abilities to recover faster from any type of disaster,” Campanella said. “How you recover from an emergency tomorrow often depends on how you prepare for it today.”

Studley said she recently learned how impactful the program can be.

“I didn’t know if the program was working at all, but then I had a kid go home and tell his mom,” Studley said. “She called me up and she says, ‘My kid came home and is telling me we need to get a (kit) ready...We had to do it right then. There was no way around it.’”

The mom was actually a school counselor at an elementary school, and she asked Studley if MEMA could come to her school to give a lesson.

In the future, MEMA plans to hold two morning presentations for elementary students at Starkville Academy on Nov. 29.

“I’m very thankful to MEMA for providing this campaign to help our children understand what can happen, but also how they can be prepared for it,” Campanella said.