Seventeen fourth-graders received safety training and learned what they'd need to put together disaster preparedness packages Wednesday afternoon in the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City.
As part of the Pillowcase Project, a program sponsored by the American Red Cross of Central and Northern Missouri, the students decorated pillowcases they earned by completing the class. They'll use the pillowcases as emergency preparedness kits, said John Dungan, a disaster program specialist with the local chapter of the organization.
"We expect to reach 300 kids this year," Dungan said. "This is our first presentation in several years."
The organization is expected to return to the club today for a presentation for fifth-graders, he said.
The project is modeled after a program therapists started in Louisiana after they witnessed University of Louisiana students carrying their valuables in pillowcases when they evacuated their homes because of Hurricane Katrina.
The therapists adopted the program to provide emergency supplies for children living in makeshift communities.
Between 2013-16, the American Red Cross redesigned the program and expanded it nationwide. It is now the nonprofit organization's signature youth preparedness program.
The program teaches children the best ways to stay safe during emergencies. It also helps children — through hands-on activities — learn to use coping skills to manage stress during emergencies and gain confidence in their abilities to be prepared for emergencies.
For Wednesday's training, presenters focused on thunderstorms and fires.
They warned students about the dangers of lightning.
"When thunder roars, go indoors," they taught the pupils.
And, it's OK to be anxious during a storm, Red Cross volunteer Terri McHugh told the children. But, they should learn to control their anxiety. So, she taught them a breathing technique called "breathing with color."
The children should think of a color that calms them and things that are that color they think might calm them.
And they should breathe in that color — and breathe out a color that makes them anxious.
"Think of a color that makes you calm," McHugh told the children. "When you think of that color — and it doesn't have to be in an emergency, it can be when you're having a bad day — it's something that's going to help you relax."
The Red Cross volunteers suggested some items children should keep in the pillowcases volunteers distribute: a flashlight, radio, toothbrush and toothpaste. They said the children should be prepared with a change of clothes in the pillowcase, as well as a small blanket and something for entertainment, such as a book to read or a coloring book and crayons.
While large storms like hurricanes may affect more people, the most dangerous emergency people face each year in the United States is home fires, Dungan said. So, preparing the children in case there was a home fire was a priority for the Red Cross.
The children should make certain there are smoke alarms in each bedroom and on each floor of their homes, he said.
They should plan an escape route — and include at least one alternate route — from each of the bedrooms, he said.
"You have to plan for a way out. When there is a home fire, you have to find a way out," 10-year-old Lucy Vinson said.
When all else fails, be prepared to go out a window, Dungan said. And, if the window is too high to exit, hang something out the window to tell people you are there. It would be nice to have a whistle or some other noise maker to alert first responders, he said.
Have an escape plan that includes a gathering point outside the house for the family, Dungan said. And practice the plan twice a year.
Following the training, 9-year-old Heaven Jones explained lightning can cause several hazards. It may cause house or wildfires, she said.
And children need to be prepared, in case they have to leave a house in a hurry in the middle of the night.
"You have to leave shoes by your bed at night," she said. "If you have to leave the house, you should put the shoes on."