February 2, 2006
U.S. Launches Disaster Planning Aimed at Children
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday introduced an animated family of mountain lions to lead a public service campaign aimed at getting families to prepare for natural disasters or terror attacks.
In a cheerier version of the "duck and cover" 1950s-era classroom drills that advised schoolchildren to dive under their desks in the event of nuclear attack, Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined the "Ready Kids" campaign at a Chicago elementary school library.
Mindful of the September 11 terror attacks and natural disasters like storms or earthquakes, Ready Kids is an offshoot of emergency response campaigns targeted at businesses and the general public.
"We're going to be talking about things during the course of this campaign like having emergency supply kits for families, having family plans about where to go and where to meet in case of emergency," Chertoff told some 75 schoolchildren, their parents and journalists at Andrew Jackson Language Academy.
"We're working with (educators and) the American Psychological Association to make sure our lessons are age-appropriate, helpful, not anxiety-provoking, but get the message across," Chertoff said.
Advice is dispensed by an animated mountain lion named Rex -- a talking cat sporting a flashlight and a grin -- his cartoon family and hummingbird friend through public service advertisements and a Web site, http://www.ready.gov.
Written materials featuring the mascots have been sent to 135,000 teachers to explain how families should collect water, food, a radio, a flashlight, batteries, books, games and other supplies to last three days.
A consultant on school security said the new campaign masked steep cuts in federal funding planned for school safety, and cited an increase in violent incidents including shootings at the nation's schools.
"Why on Earth are Congress and the federal bureaucrats cutting school emergency planning and safety money, while spending millions on ad campaigns and Web sites?" said Kenneth Trump, who heads a Cleveland-based consulting firm on school safety.
Chertoff and other administration officials were sharply criticized in a report released on Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' watchdog agency, for not designating a single person to take charge of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, resulting in lack of decisive action and confusion after the storm.
"You have to plan together as a family," said Dawn Hendon, a parent of 11- and 13-year-old children who attend the school. "It's good to have a little direction."
Hendon said her children were aware of terror attacks when reported in the news, but were more concerned about "bad people in the neighborhood" and fears of a tsunami-like wave emerging from nearby Lake Michigan.