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Homeland Security to launch preparedness program for kids

Associated Press | January 30, 2006

After more than a year of delays, the Department of Homeland Security says it plans to launch a preparedness program next month aimed at alerting and preparing children for natural disasters.


The program, called Ready Kids, is scheduled to roll out with TV ads, school programs and other events.
"Ready Kids is a tool for parents and teachers to use to be able to speak to their students and children about how to be prepared for any type of disaster," said DHS spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez.


Gonzalez said the program will include age-appropriate activities and lessons on preparedness.

FEMA, an agency within the DHS, already has a program preparing children for disasters. "FEMA for Kids" (www.fema.gov/kids) includes a pudgy and nervous-looking airplane leaking a trail of smoke, a hermit crab mascot named "Herman," and a song with a rap beat:


"Disaster . . . it can happen anywhere,


"But we've got a few tips, so you can be prepared,


"For floods, tornadoes, or even a 'quake,


"You've got to be ready -- so your heart don't break."


Gonzalez said she didn't know how www.readykids.gov would differ from FEMA's program. FEMA spokeswoman Barbara Ellis said FEMA for Kids will include information about Ready Kids "as part of a coordinated promotional launch."


Federal officials originally announced plans to launch Ready Kids in September 2004, in conjunction with National Preparedness Month. Then the department announced launch for National Preparedness Month 2005, this past September. Gonzalez said she could not explain the delays, but said the program is definitely scheduled to launch February 2 in Chicago.


Planned events include a roundtable discussion with Homeland Security officials, teachers, parents and psychologists, said PTA spokesman James Martinez, whose organization is working with the DHS on the program.


"The goal is to prepare kids and educate kids for emergencies," said Martinez. "It's something a little more elaborate but similar to preparing children for tornadoes by having them get under a desk."


Both Martinez and Gonzalez said they had no concerns that the preparedness program might frighten children.


"Personally I can remember learning to get under a desk for tornadoes and that that didn't frighten me," said Martinez.


Last year, Homeland Security officials refused to release proposals, drafts or any budget information about the Ready Kids campaign in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press. They said the program was still being developed.


The program is part of the Department of Homeland Security's $100 million campaign to prepare American citizens for terrorism disasters.


Earlier announcements about Ready Kids from the DHS have said it is "a tool to help parents and teachers educate children ages 8-12 about emergencies and how they can help get their family prepared." In August 2004, the DHS said the program would include a mascot of a dog, or a "homeland security hound," following in the pawsteps of McGruff, the Crime Dog. That year, the DHS also put the idea for a mascot-naming contest into the federal register for an open comment period.


The Ready Kids campaign is part of the larger Ready campaign, which debuted in February 2003, under contract with the Ad Council. The Ad Council described the Ready campaign as one of the most successful campaign launches in its 62-year history. That program focuses primarily on terrorism, and features a slogan: "Terrorism forces us to make a choice. Don't be afraid. Be ready."


The New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation donated more than $5 million to the Ad Council in support of the Ready campaign when it faced cost overruns.


"Although the campaign has been a success, a number of developments resulted in major cost overruns," said a report on the donation prepared by the nonprofit foundation, which supports educational, anti-terror and other initiatives. "The original plan included a Web site that would exist as part of Homeland Security's Web site. However, it turned out that Homeland Security could not host the READY Web site with confidence that it would be secure and able to withstand high traffic."


The Sloan Foundation said about $1.8 million was needed to hire outside vendors to provide appropriate hosting and security for the site in 2002 before the launch. Other foundation funds were for production of advertising materials when it became apparent that donated ad space was available on billboards and in magazines.


The DHS assumed the costs of going forward with the READY program after October 1, 2003.


Last modified January 30, 2006





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