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Friday, January 20, 2017

Preparedness starts with our children

Public Information Officers wear many hats. We are the face of our agency, sharing information with the media and the public. We write articles and news releases and social media posts. We create educational campaigns and provide community outreach. Recently, I was able to spend time in Arizona City with the more than 600 students at Arizona City Elementary School.

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) recently launched a new flood awareness campaign called “Be Flood Aware: Prepare.” The campaign encourages people who live in flood prone areas to know their flood risk and to prepare accordingly.

One facet of the campaign is to visit the communities and talk to residents about flood risk and preparedness. Including children is always a good decision during community outreach. Not only are the children active participants, but they will take the information they learned and bring it back to their parents/family.

My colleagues and I spent about 30 minutes with 12 different groups, talking with students about the types of hazards that can occur in Arizona and the importance of being prepared. One of my slides showed images of a wildfire, a haboob (dust cloud), flooded roads, a building destroyed by snow, and a house damaged by a tornado. Each group I talked to was surprised that we have had tornadoes in Arizona.

When we talked about flooding, the students were knowledgeable and had the right answers – do not drive through a flooded road… turn around… wait it out… do not play in the flooded washes… protect your house.
Flooding is not new to Arizona City. The community is situated in a usually dry river basin, has many streets and washes that quickly flood when it rains. Streets and washes often get covered with water that takes time to recede. Houses get cut off from street access. Oftentimes when it starts to rain and it looks like it may last awhile, parents will head to the school to pick up their kids before the streets become impassable.

In addition to talking about hazards with the students, we discussed  the importance of being prepared. I was very proud of all the groups I spent time with and the extent they were engaged. Whenever I asked what should be in an emergency supplies kit, there was always more than one child with his or her hand up, ready to answer. 

They knew that they needed canned foods (and other non-perishable items), water, first aid and more. One of my favorite responses was from a little boy with glasses who responded shyly, “my teddy bear.” All the kids in the class got excited and started saying, “me too, me too,” causing that little boy to sit up proudly and grin ear-to-ear.

We played emergency kit bingo and I enjoyed watching the younger students frantically searching their boards for granola bars, flashlights and batteries.

I started the day hoping to teach the Arizona City children a few takeaways about flooding and emergency.

I left at the end of the day thinking that if we can judge Arizona City’s preparedness by the knowledge of its children, then the community is well on its way to being prepared for flooding and any other potential hazards that may hit the area. 

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