By Meredith Cherney
When you ask someone what the most important thing to have on hand for a hurricane is, the common answers include food, water, flashlights, batteries, or a radio. As I read through my student surveys however, I found a different set of answers. Lifejackets. Boats. Buckets. Axes.
Growing up in New Orleans fosters a unique hurricane perspective. When I stepped into that classroom to teach 9 to 12 year old students about hurricanes and preparedness, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What do they know about hurricanes? Do they understand that some evacuations are mandatory? Has their experience with hurricanes fostered a fear or resilience?
I work for Evacuteer.org, a private non-profit commissioned by the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to help with the City Assisted Evacuation (CAE) plan. Beyond our role in emergency events we also seek to inform the public about the CAE and foster community preparedness.
Our EvacuKids program targets a younger demographic. We’ve already quadrupled our reach since 2012, from 30 to 120 students. Complete with a new curriculum and corresponding science experiments and activities, we not only teach students about hurricanes, but also work to improve literacy, writing, and critical thinking skills.
There are four modules: disasters, hurricanes, prepare, and evacuate. Each week builds upon the previous week, starting with the science of disasters and how hurricanes form to preparing your home for a storm and finding a safe place to stay in the event of a hurricane.
In addition to academic lessons, we also talk to students about their experience with hurricanes, what they did, and how they felt. Many students express fear and uncertainty when recalling their experience and as a class we discuss coping mechanisms to help them deal with their feelings. Additionally, learning how hurricanes form and why they are common in our area can alleviate anxieties and foster a greater sense of understanding, preparedness, and even excitement in students.
EvacuKids is tailored to the specific needs of the children, those whose families have transportation out of the city and those without it. EvacuKids is a fantastic opportunity to make a meaningful, sustainable impact on a generation that will someday lead New Orleans in a positive direction.