Q&A: Jennifer Ussery, Volunteer and Youth Specialist with the American Red Cross-East Tennessee

A volunteer and youth specialist with the American Red Cross-East Tennessee, Ussery will teach "Disaster Dudes" as part of a free Preparedness Day for kids K-5th, March 9 from 9 a.m.-noon at 6921 Middlebrook Pike.

What topics will you cover with the kids?

We will be offering four different safety courses: Scrubby Bear, which will go over everything you ever wanted to know about germs; Disaster Dudes, which covers what disasters could happen in our area, how to prepare for them, and what goes in a disaster kit; Safe On My Own, which talks about you home by yourself; and Whale Tales—everything you need to know to be safe around water.

For "Disaster Dudes," do you vary content by age?

At this event, we'll teach third-fifth graders, but we also have a different video we show kindergartners about getting ready for a disaster; it's Sesame Street, and it features Grover trying to put a bowling ball in his backpack. At that age, they still need to know their parents' names—not just "mom" and "dad"; they need to learn their address, who can help them in their neighborhoods, and what they need to put in their disaster kits, like a change of clothes. Then, if you have to leave quickly, say in a flooding situation, they know, "I just grab my backpack and go." Of course for fire we teach them, "Just get out!"

What should parents and grandparents emphasize with their kids?

You would be surprised the kids that know about disasters that happen, they hear parents talk or they know someone whose house caught on fire, or their house maybe was flooded. A lot of time they only hear parts and this scares them. Instead, talk to your kids about disaster and include them in disaster preparedness—"This is what we do when these things happen"—and that will help them feel safe and in charge. Practice what to do, like when you have to leave the house quickly, or when the lights go out. Have them practice in good weather and bad. Everyone always says "Meet by the mailbox" in a fire, but you need to practice it. A study showed that some kids sleep through the smoke alarm, so be sure to practice when your kids are awake and when they're asleep—set an alarm off in the middle of the night and see how you do. You want to talk frequently, and before a disaster happens, because in a disaster you might be panicking, and yelling, and you can't teach your kids anything then!

Do kids ever ask funny questions in the classes?

Oh, yes. Once I asked in a Scrubby Bear class, "What do germs cause?" and a kid said, "Pregnancy!" I was like, "Okay, and what else?" And once when teaching the Safe On My Own in a classroom at a rural school, I showed this video about being safe on the street, and one child spoke out, "I know I'm safe because I have a machete hidden." The teacher wrote that name down to look into the situation!

Can young kids help more than we probably realize?

Yes. If they know when they should, they can dial 911; if they know how, they can throw a life jacket. Even your preschoolers can have their own backpack with disaster supplies for themselves so when the lights go out in a thunder storm they can get their own flashlight. It's important that children never feel like just because they're a kid they can't do anything.

Parents planning to bring kids should let the Red Cross know by e-mailing jennifer.ussery@redcross.org or calling 865-862-3501.