- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2000

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) was formed in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter combined numerous departments and programs into one agency to help plan for and deal with emergencies.
FEMA's mission entails reducing loss of life and property and protecting the nation's critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
With the help of the mighty Internet, FEMA not only has an immense Web site, but has put together a well-developed children's area that sheds light on how to stay healthy when Mother Nature wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.

Site address for FEMA for Kids:

www.fema.gov/kids

Creator:

FEMA has its headquarters in the District, and Holly Harrington, a writer in the public affairs office, developed the site in 1997.

Creator quotable:

"By providing information directly to children, we help them understand what to expect and what to do if disaster strikes. They're able to respond correctly maybe even saving their own lives and are also able to recover more quickly afterward," Miss Harrington says.
"We specifically address the psychological trauma of disasters and give the children concrete ways they can help themselves feel better. In addition, there's nothing like an energetic kid to get their parents to do things they don't want to in FEMA's case, to get their parents to take risk-reduction measures and to store emergency items. So while the site is aimed at children, we hope the information gets to adults as well."

Word from the Webwise:

FEMA for Kids walks the fine line between preparing children to understand and live through disasters and scaring the pants off them. With a bright, colorful and cartoony atmosphere, the site offers a comprehensive resource for surviving unpredictable situations while understanding the potentially serious side of Earth's might.
A crisp yellow backdrop surrounds five icons on the opening page "FEMA Headline News," "Hot Feature of the Month," "For the Little Ones," "Resources for Parents and Teachers" and "Follow Me and Have Some Fun." Each leads to entertaining and valuable safety lessons.
In "Hot Feature of the Month," children learn procedures for dealing with tornadoes which are active in the States in March and April. An illustrated story chronicles the exploits of the disaster twins, Robbie and Julie. The story also can be heard using the Real Audio plug-in, easily configured in most browsers.
"FEMA Headline News" has a FEMA-zine that consists of the latest additions to the site and a wide list of offerings, from a 10-year-old discussing Hurricane Floyd to information on how to build a tornado-safe room to a chance to listen to National Weather Service broadcasts.
A section that will lead to many hours of exploration, "Follow Me and Have Some Fun," overwhelms with more colorful icons, starting with "Becoming a Disaster Action Kid," which involves working through the site and then filling out an e-mail form to receive a certificate signed by FEMA Director James Lee Witt.
Other areas to check out in this section include a voluminous resource that explains disasters such as winter storms and volcanoes through stories, intensity scales, games and quizzes; a library filled with photos, maps and viewable FEMA publications; and, most important, the "Disaster Connection," where children can express themselves with artwork, essays and poems.
"Resources for Parents and Teachers," again, overwhelms with material, such as "Fire Safety Fact Sheets" and "How Schools Can Become More Disaster Resistant." The "For the Little Ones" section offers an amazing array of coloring pages, games, jokes, hurricane cartoons and a silly rap song.

Ease of use:

FEMA has combined the very best of quick-loading images with stable technologies such as Real Audio, embedded WAV files and JAVA applets to offer a very active and entertaining site. Everything I tried from quick-fact pop-up windows to building a snowman to the search engine worked flawlessly, and it's obvious Miss Harrington and her designers worked very hard to create this fun Web experience.

Family activity:

Under "Follow Me and Have Some Fun," visitors will find "Get Ready, Get Set" and a chance for the entire household to take part in a scavenger hunt for items that are critical for a family disaster kit. An on-line checklist is provided for the family to use while finding such items as stored water, a flashlight, signal flares, a whistle and a fire extinguisher. The exercise not only prepares families, but should get everyone talking about how to deal with a crisis.

Don't miss:

"What's Happening Now," which resides quietly under the "Follow Me and Have Some Fun" section, is a clickable map of the United States that displays climate situations that can occur in individual states. For example, click on Maryland and learn that the state has a potential for hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, floods, severe storms and fires. Each list of disasters also offers a news item on the most recent problem. In Maryland, Hurricane Floyd was a real troublemaker.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

My favorite sites are always the ones that educate sneakily while children are having fun. FEMA for Kids qualifies unequivocally even though some of the topics might be a bit scary for children if parents do not fully explain them. I also appreciated FEMA's placing an "Online Safety Rules" icon on the front page. It leads to an area that clearly explains how to have a beneficial on-line experience.

Information grade: A++

Have a cool site about science or health for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to joseph@twtmail.com.

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