“Get low and go fast!” shouted the group of young children attending summer camp in Pasco County when asked what to do during a home fire. The kids, ages 5-8 were participating in a Red Cross pilot program called Prepare with Pedro, designed to teach children in grades K–2 how to prepare and respond to disasters. More than a dozen Red Cross regions across the U.S., including Central Florida, are teaching this new program, an expansion of the Red Cross youth preparedness initiative.
Jose Bueno, Central Florida’s regional preparedness manager, likened the program to how recycling was taught in the 1980s and 1990s. He explained, “Instead of teaching adults, they focused the information on the little ones so they would become advocates for recycling. That’s what we are doing now. We are providing these courses and programs so kids become advocates for all kinds of preparedness at home.”
In July, Red Cross volunteers brought the Prepare with Pedro lesson to Anclote Elementary in New Port Richey. Twenty children learned the importance of having a family disaster plan, building an emergency supply kit and finding safe places during a disaster.
Red Cross volunteer Jeanette Chavez used the Prepare with Pedro story book to demonstrate how to “get low and go fast” to escape a home fire, and then asked for a volunteer to do the same. Seven-year-old Elycia was quick to step up.
“When it’s smoky inside, never stand up because that makes it harder to breathe,” said Elycia. She then got down on her hands and knees and demonstrated how to quickly crawl to safety. Four more practiced this exercise while the rest of the group cheered them on. The crawling race is used to reinforce the lesson that you only have two minutes to escape when a fire occurs, and encouraged children to practice a home fire drill with their families.
Finally, it was time to discuss finding a family meeting place. Chavez challenged the students to come up with a safe place in their own front yard where all their family members could rally after escaping the home. “My mail box” and “the big tree” were some ideas.
Prepare with Pedro is an expansion of the successful Pillowcase Project designed for grades 3-5, launched in 2013. After watching the older students putting the skills they learned to good use, K–2 teachers advocated for a similar program for younger kids.
Red Cross pilot programs typically run for two to three years before expanding nationwide. During this time, both the trainers and recipients help evaluate the usefulness and success of the program. Educators test their students’ retention of the material by asking the same questions to those who attended the program several weeks earlier.
In Central Florida, the program has generated positive effects during the 18 months it has been taught. “The majority of kids are remembering the lessons,” said Bueno with pride.