- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Department of Homeland Security — after more than a year of delays — says it plans to roll out a preparedness program next month aimed at alerting and preparing children for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The program, called Ready Kids, will include 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,” DHS spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez said.

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

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of DHS, already has a program preparing children for disasters. “FEMA for Kids,” www.fema.gov/kids, includes a pudgy 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.”

Miss 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 delayed the start to coincide with National Preparedness Month 2005, this past September. Miss Gonzalez said she could not explain the delays, but said the program is definitely scheduled to begin Feb. 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,” Mr. Martinez said.

Both Mr. Martinez and Miss 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 didn’t frighten me,” Mr. Martinez said.

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 DHS’ $100 million campaign to prepare American citizens for terrorism disasters.

Earlier announcements about Ready Kids from 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, DHS said the program would include a dog mascot, or a “homeland security hound,” following in the steps of McGruff, the Crime Dog.

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