FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Programs

What we’re talking about

Youth Preparedness is a key focus for FEMA in creating a Culture of Preparedness in the U.S. In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable we’re joined by FEMA’s Branch Chief for Preparedness Programs, Allison Carlock, as she shares the importance of engaging youth to increase community preparedness. Allison will also share tips on how emergency managers can start a youth program in their own community.


(0:03 – 1:14) 

Empowering youth to be prepared for disasters is a key to building a culture of preparedness in this country. In this episode, we’ll explore the programs and resources available from FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Program, including how to start a youth program of your own. This is Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage, and educate the emergency management community. 

Our topics are timely and relevant, intended to promote the exchange of ideas and best practices. Now, here’s your host, Greg Padgett. The future of our success lies with our youth, and to encourage kids to learn more about disasters, from identifying how to stay safe and responding to an event, to becoming a champion and encouraging other youth to be engaged, FEMA has developed a robust Youth Preparedness Program within its Individual and Community Preparedness Division. 

This program supports efforts nationally and within each of the FEMA regions by coordinating and supporting youth activities for all ages, down to the local level. Allison Carlock is the Branch Chief for FEMA’s Preparedness Programs and is responsible for leading the agency’s efforts for youth preparedness, financial preparedness, regional engagement, and continuity training for community-based organizations. Welcome to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, Allison. 

(1:14 – 1:51) 

Thanks, I’m glad to be here. September is National Preparedness Month, and the last week of the month has been dedicated to promoting youth preparedness across the country. I know you’ve been supporting youth preparedness activities for several years while at FEMA. 

Why has FEMA determined that reaching youth will be an important way in building a culture of preparedness in our country? Yeah, absolutely. It’s been one of our agency’s top priorities to build that culture of preparedness, and I truly believe that that begins with our youth and our children. Youth have such a powerful voice that often is overlooked, and they’re not just a vulnerable population or an afterthought in how we plan, but they’re really, they’re part of the solution. 

(1:51 – 2:19) 

If you take a look at the composition of the U.S., youth are roughly 25% of the population, but they’re 100% of our future. If we really want to change that culture of preparedness and develop a society that’s prepared, insured, and ready to handle any hazard, that change, I think, begins with our youth. To your point about September and National Preparedness Month, this is an opportunity to remind us how important it is to prepare for disasters. 

(2:19 – 2:50) 

This year alone with COVID, it really has put into perspective just how unpredictable disasters can be and how far-reaching their impacts can be. I think as a parent, as emergency managers, we’re all thinking, how is this going to impact our communities? How is this going to impact our children? I think we really need to take this opportunity to say, well, disasters don’t plan ahead, but we can. We’re going to make sure that our children, both at home and in our community, are prepared and better equipped to handle that disaster. 

(2:51 – 3:02) 

Do you also think that youth help to be an influencer for their parents when they get home if they’re taught this message in school or in other environments? Absolutely. Kids are change agents. They bring that information that they learn at school. 

(3:02 – 6:41) 

They bring it home to their families. They’re a great resource to really share that preparedness message and get it into home. I think teaching kids those preparedness skills now really also helps them carry those positive habits into adulthood. 

It’s not only about teaching the kids, but it’s also about getting that information home in their backpacks, having the parents ask questions at the end of the day. These kids are really a great way to share that information with their parents. I think that does make a lot of sense. 

Now, I know there’s a lot of different programs under FEMA’s umbrella of youth preparedness. Can you go through some of those and tell us a little bit about what those are? Yeah. I know we don’t have a ton of time today, so I’ll pick and choose from some of our main projects and programs that have been the most popular. 

I would recommend that all the listeners today go to visit the ready.gov slash kids website to see the full extent of the programs and resources we have out there. We primarily support youth in three different ways. We educate through our programs, we engage through our stakeholders, and we empower through our Youth Preparedness Council. 

Some of the programs that we have, they range in various mediums from coloring books and card games, classroom curriculum, even volunteer opportunities for teens, so products like Prepare with Pedro, which is a coloring and activity book. In the last two years alone, we’ve distributed over half a million copies to children nationwide in both English and Spanish. This has been a huge success for us. 

Another fun tool we have is a card game called Ready to Help. Often parents, they’ll ask, I don’t know if it’s too early to talk to my kids about disasters or it’s too scary. It’s too difficult for parents to talk to their kids about emergencies. 

This card game is really great because I ask them, what about an everyday emergency? What if your child gets lost on a school field trip or grandma falls while babysitting? Do they know how to call 911? A lot of the skill sets that are needed in a disaster also apply in an everyday emergency. This game walks kids through those emergency situations in a very playful, easy environment. That’s a great resource, I think, to share with kids to get them active and engaged in disaster preparedness. 

We also have classroom curriculum, STEP, the Student Tools for Emergency Planning. This is a fourth and fifth grade student curriculum, which is broken down into modules, makes it easy for teachers to use, and has accompanying videos. There’s a number of different programs that we have, like I said, all available on our website. 

Then beyond our programming, we also work extensively with partners. That’s really key for us to share our preparedness message. Several years ago, we co-authored the National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education in partnership with the American Red Cross and the Department of Education. 

Over the years, we’ve had over 65 organizations sign on and affirm that strategy. This group really works together to share their resources and their expertise so that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes and we’re really maximizing our impact there. We also have training courses that are available to help individuals and organizations plan for children’s needs. 

Whether you’re a daycare provider, a school, or even a mom, there’s a training out there that can help you navigate that planning process. All the resources and programs that I mentioned are available on our website again, ready.gov slash kids. That’s a great place for you to go to check out our resources and tools. 

(6:41 – 10:43) 

A number of our materials are actually available in our warehouse free of charge. Any school organization individual can go to the website and have materials shipped free of charge. If we have a school in Atlanta that wants to have 100 card games sent to them for a prep rally at their school or just to be sent home in backpacks with kids, they can go to our website and get that material. 

Then finally, we have our youth platform, what we call our Youth Preparedness Council. I’d like to say that there’s nothing about them without them. How can we talk about children and youth? How can we plan for their needs without bringing them to the table? We gave them a voice and we created this Youth Preparedness Council. 

We have 15 kids at the national level. We bring them together. They develop projects. 

They work with their regional, state, and even local partners. They really become the change agents for their community. They find unique and innovative ways to spread messaging and to share that information back at home in their community. 

It’s truly incredible to see what the kids can do. Actually, this year, we were able to host our annual Youth Preparedness Council Summit virtually. Usually, we bring out all the kids to DC and we meet with different leaders from across the government and organizations. 

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic this year, we had to do it in a virtual environment. We actually were honored to have First Lady Melania Trump at the event. That was really great to have her presence there. 

The council members were just so excited and to have such a high-level figure come out and share her support for youth preparedness at large and all the work the kids were doing was really cool to see. In the past, I’ve met some of these Youth Preparedness Council members. They really make you feel as an adult like you’ve underachieved your whole life because they’re just amazing kids. 

They’re just so mature. The things that they’re trying to do in their community are just really outstanding. I want to know what recommendation you might have for the emergency manager out there who may want to engage the youth preparedness representative that’s in their particular FEMA region for the state they may live in. 

How do they go about doing that? When we bring the national members on board, we make sure that they have connections to their regional counterparts at FEMA and that they’re also closely connected with their state emergency managers. The success of their participation in the council really relies heavily on that partnership and that engagement. While we have them working on national-level projects, we really strive to connect them with their regional, state, and local counterparts. 

For instance, one of the YPC projects this year is for the council members to design and execute a preparedness fair at the local level. They’re utilizing their local and state relationships to really design that event and the messaging and make sure that it supports the specific needs of their community. I’d say for anybody that’s interested in working with a council member from their region to reach out to their regional counterpart at FEMA, we, of course, encourage all participation from the state, the region, local. 

The more we can get our folks enmeshed in local and regional emergency management issues, it really helps us to craft our projects, find those professional development opportunities, and it really makes for a more robust program. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll hear more about FEMA’s youth preparedness program, including how to start a local initiative. 

And later, what is FEMA doing to ensure that they reach all segments of the population? We’ll be right back. You’re listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable. For this and other episodes of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, visit tidalbasinggroup.com forward slash education. 

(10:44 – 10:58) 

Now back to your host, Greg Paget. And welcome back. In this episode, we’ve been joined by FEMA Branch Chief for Preparedness Programs, Allison Carlock, as we’ve been discussing the various FEMA programs and initiatives supporting and encouraging youth preparedness. 

(10:59 – 14:34) 

Allison, for emergency managers who are listening, what is your advice on how they should start up a youth preparedness program in their own community? Yeah, I’d say don’t reinvent the wheel. There are hundreds of different youth preparedness programs nationwide, so you do not have to start from scratch. I think that’s one of the biggest things, is people feel a little overwhelmed, I want to do this, it’s important work, but then they get tied up in how to start it. 

And so if you just, you know, even do a quick Google search, you can find a number of different resources out there. CDC has the series with Reddy Wrigley. FEMA, we worked with American Red Cross to build Prepare with Pedro. 

Save the Children has a fantastic program called Prep Rally. So really, there are a ton of checklists, facilitator guides, and resources out there. So I’d say do your research first, see what’s out there in your community. 

And all these resources are really meant to be shared and tailored to fit. So if you don’t like something, take something out, make it work for you. I know we developed one program called STEP, the Student Tools for Emergency Planning that I mentioned earlier, and that was a big hit in Region 5. And the state of Wisconsin really took that on in their emergency management department, but they took the program and they kind of altered it to fit their needs. 

So they might have had modules that looked a little bit different than we had built it out, and that’s great. We are providing these resources to you, but in the hopes that you take them, you tailor them, you make them fit best for your community. When we talk about supporting youth in this time of culture that we’re in right now, we talk about also minorities and underserved youth in certain segments of the community. 

What are you guys doing or what have you done to engage those particular audiences? Do you have initiatives, you know, particularly set aside, or is it just something that FEMA always tries to incorporate into everything that they do from a standpoint of preparedness? Yeah, absolutely. Well, children and youth themselves are actually an underserved group, so that’s why it’s so important that we continue these efforts and the programming to ensure that all segments of our community is prepared. But we do strive to be inclusive of the whole community, from distributing our materials in different formats like large print and braille, to translating materials in multiple languages. 

We work with diverse and underserved community groups. It really is our goal to make sure that our materials are relevant, that they’re appropriate, and that they meet the needs of our community. So we’re always looking for ways to make sure that the whole community is involved and it’s easily accessible. 

In fact, our office has been working hard for about two years now to translate our materials in multiple languages. So a lot of preparedness resources I talked about today, we have translated into Spanish, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean. So I think it’s extremely important that we focus on those underserved populations and make sure that they’re prepared. 

Actually, one other initiative I wanted to mention is a new program called OPEN. It’s called Organizations Preparing for Emergency Needs. And with it is the goal of increasing the capacity and resilience of vital community-based organizations, or what we call CBOs. 

And we know CBOs support individuals and communities during the blue sky days. They provide those essential services like our food banks, our shelters, daycare centers, places of worship. So when CBOs are not able to provide those services to the community, individuals who rely on these community resources are disproportionately impacted. 

(14:35 – 15:39) 

So that’s why we not only try to prepare underserved populations at the individual level, making sure that they have the tools and resources accessible, but we are also focused on the community level, making sure that those CBOs that support the community can continue to provide those resources. It’s really great information. Thank you so much, Allison, for being part of our show today and our guest on Disaster Recovery Roundtable. 

Thank you, sir. Glad to be here. As Tidal Basin continues helping to spread the message of preparedness as part of National Preparedness Month, we encourage you to learn more about the programs that Allison discussed today by visiting FEMA’s Ready Kids website. 

The address is ready.gov forward slash kids. You’ve been listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage, and educate. For more information on this episode, visit our podcast page at tidalbasingroup.com. You can download previous podcasts, learn more about the programs we discussed, and suggest a topic for a future episode. 

You can also find us on your favorite podcast provider. This has been a Tidal Basin production. Thanks for listening.