Thousands of school children from across Wisconsin learned about severe weather and emergency preparedness after attending Weather Day at Miller Park April 17.
The students attended the annual Weather Day – now in its 11th year – hosted by the Milwaukee Brewers and sponsored by CBS 58 – prior to their game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
This year marked the 7th year in which Wisconsin Emergency Management played an important role. WEM’s focus this year centered on preparedness for a disaster or an emergency, specifically the often overlooked measure of pet preparedness
"Weather Day is an excellent opportunity to talk to students across southeast Wisconsin that come to Miller Park to learn about weather and preparedness," said Lori Getter, WEM's crisis communication manager. "Our focus is on pet preparedness and encouraging students to make sure they have an emergency kit for their pets as well as learning about keeping their family safe and prepared for disasters and emergencies."
Getter said speaking with kids on preparedness topics is important because the message sticks with them as they become adults, and they often take the preparedness message home to their parents.
"It goes back years ago when firefighters began teaching students what to do in a house fire,” she said. "It's getting that message ingrained, and so hopefully when these students are adults being prepared for emergencies and disasters is second nature."
Andrew Beckett, the assistant public information officer for WEM, agreed.
“I see Weather Day as a great opportunity to connect with students around the state and really getting them to think about preparedness for all members of their family, pets included, but also themselves and their parents and their siblings as well and to start that thinking about what needs to go in their kit, what they need to do in order to be prepared for an emergency,” he said.
Beckett stressed the important of ensuring that pet preparedness kits included extra food, water, leashes, bowls and dishes, medications, veterinary records and even extra treats and toys while drawing parallels to what families should consider when creating their own preparedness kits.
“And the whole idea is that these are some of the same things that you will need in the event of an emergency,” he said. “We look at those things as the kinds of things that we want them to think about putting in their kit as well.”
Emergency preparedness and disaster kits are a key component of the Student Tools for Emergency Planning – or STEP – program, which WEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency facilitate for schools and teachers each year.
“It’s a program that we do in schools around the state,” Beckett said. “It’s targeted mainly at fourth and fifth graders. There’s a curriculum that goes with it, and it focuses on the steps that they need to take in order to make sure that they’re prepared. Ideas such as making an emergency plan with their family, making that disaster kit, knowing the signs of severe weather and what to do when those situations pop up and knowing how to get in touch with their friends and loved ones in the event that a disaster hits their area and maybe they’re not able to get home.”
FEMA Region V is one of WEM’s key partners in sharing that preparedness message, and a large group from FEMA was on hand at Weather Day to assist in sharing the message to kids and teachers alike.
“We see it as vital in supporting our state partners and getting that preparedness information out into the communities,” said Kimberly Hayward, the community preparedness officer for FEMA Region V. “Reaching children and youth in particular is very important to us, because we want to ensure that this population is prepared for disasters and then they tend to bring that information home to their parents as well, so it’s a way for us to have a bigger impact in terms of increasing individual empowerment so that people can stay safe when something happens.”
“During major disasters and emergencies, people could be on their own for up to 72 hours before professional first responders arrive, so we want people to have the tools and the resources to be able to help themselves when something happens,” Hayward added. “Of course we want to lessen the impact when something occurs and, of course, recover more quickly when a disaster or emergency happens.”
The message seems to have resonated with the school children who attended Weather Day.
‘Right when I get home, I’m going to make a kit for my dog,” Ryan Horkan, a 6th grade student at Lake Mills Middle School, said.
Simon Siegel, a 7th grader from Menasha said he also plans to keep food supplies staged and ready in the event of an emergency. He also said the science experiments that meteorologists performed on the field prior to the game made an impact as well.
“It takes some really fast winds to keep hail up in the air,” he said, referencing one of the experiments.
Hannah Jacobson, a 1st grade teacher at Yorkville School in Union Grove attended Weather Day as a chaperone with her daughter’s 4th grade class from North Cape School in Franksville.
“I think getting some more knowledge about what they should do in severe situations,” she said. “I think it’s kind of neat for them to see the impact of the wind and hail and the damage that could be done, because I don’t think that they necessarily understand without seeing it.”
Of the STEP program she learned about at WEM’s booth in the right-field concourse, she said, “It’s a great tool for students to become more involved and setting up bags for their homes and stuff too so that they’re ready both at school and at home, so I think it would be a great program for us to get involved with.”
Jennifer Hacker, a 3rd grade teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Waukesha said Weather Day was a very positive experience for her and her students.
“At Weather Day we’re getting to see some really neat experiments this morning,” she said. “We got to see what a tornado looks like, and then we got to see the impact of hail and how important it is to stay away from the windows and safety.”
The preparedness message also resonated with her.
“A lot of times you don’t think about it until the last minute until you have to go somewhere, so it is important to keep in mind that you want to be prepared and have the things available so that if you have to get out and go somewhere then you grab your bag and go,” she said.
Partners and representatives from FEMA Region V, WEM, and the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard were all on hand to support WEM’s Weather Day efforts and share the all-important message of preparedness with the students, teachers and parents that attended.