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Red Cross Program Teaches Emergency Preparedness To Kids Affected By 2013 Tornadoes

Jason Colston
American Red Cross

During tornado season, preparedness is key. Phrases like “Don’t be scared, be prepared” populate Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites when there’s a severe weather threat. One organization is now taking steps to ensure kids also know what to do when severe weather rolls in.  

Shannon Reed is a Community Resiliency Specialist with the Red Cross. Last month, she spent a day in a gymnasium at Carney Elementary School, teaching kids about severe weather.

“We love to play preparedness Simon Says to teach the children the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. They're two terms that are very similar and a lot of people don't know the difference, so we like to play that game to let them understand what you should be doing during those two terms,” Reed said.

The kids actively looked around during the “tornado watch” command and then they ran to cover when Reed yelled “tornado warning.” The 8 year olds had a blast laughing, running and playing during what would normally be classroom instruction time.

While tornadoes are serious, Reed says it’s important to make this kind of learning entertaining.

“Children learn through play, so we don't want them to be scared at all when they're coming to hang out with us. We want them to equate being prepared is being safe, but you can have fun doing it,” she said.

Reed and her team spent the spring traveling to counties that were hit by the severe weather outbreak in 2013, hosting what the Red Cross calls Pillowcase Projects. At the end of each hour-long lesson on tornado preparedness, kids leave with a bag filled with emergency supplies.

Carney’s Superintendent Dewayne Osborn says last year’s May 19th tornado was a little too close for comfort.

“It went about a quarter of a mile south of our school, so the school itself had no destruction, but it's just pretty close,” Osborne said.

Close enough that Carney’s second grade teacher Robin Bullard found herself comforting kids who were directly impacted by the storm.

“I have two students who completely lost their homes last year due to the tornado, and they didn't get their homes rebuilt until one in December and one in February,” she said.

And it’s clear the tornado had an effect on those kids, as they’re still nervous during the school’s quarterly tornado drills.

But Bullard says they were actually excited about the Pillowcase Project. While it’s easy to shy away from affected children during tornado awareness activities, the Red Cross’s Shannon Reed says it’s the survivors’ stories that actually make the most impact.

“I think that their experience always adds something to the class because they can express it in a different way, and that can add so much to the class because they can help their classmates kind of work through that process. It helps,” she said.

For Reed, it’s most important to start a conversation with the students in hopes that they’ll turn around and start conversations with their parents. A lot of the time, she says, kids get scared because they just don’t understand what’s going on.

“In turn, their parents become anxious, and everyone gets scared,” Reed said.

“So I think preparing them and educating them about what happens during a tornado and how they can be ready for it, that kind of leads to the community being more resilient.”

She hopes that when school starts up again in the fall, the Red Cross will be able to expand the project beyond tornado-affected communities to teach storm preparedness to children throughout the state.


Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project stories are produced by KGOU News, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reports may be used in any media with appropriate credit given to KGOU and CPB. For details, refer to our Terms of Use.


Kate Carlton Greer was a general assignment reporter for KGOU and Oklahoma Public Media Exchange.
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