Yesterday DHS’ Ready Program announced a new partnership with Sesame Street as part of its Ready Kids Campaign. By speaking to the youngest among us, the partnership is working to help families understand the steps to take and the resources they should have to be prepared for an emergency.

I think it’s safe to say that the late-night comedians, media pundits and preparedness critics will have a field day making jokes about this relationship; but to anyone who has young kids, you just found yourself two friends, Grover and Rosita who will help you and your family take the steps to a safer future.

The printed materials, as well as on-line video featuring Grover and Rosita, speak to the child as much as they do the adult about what they need to know and what they need to do to be ‘ready.’ After examining the impacts of previous disasters such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2005 Hurricanes and other emergencies around the country, the need to look after the physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of victims has garnered more and much deserved attention. While an emergency can occur at any time and take any form, helping to educate a child with essential information (knowing their full name, address, phone number, parents name, etc) can make a world of difference.

The Ready Team could not have asked for a better partner than the team behind Sesame Street. Imagination and education have always come together on Sesame Street and if we are going to forge a culture of preparedness, this is a great place to start.

Children have an amazing way of pushing us to do many things – from encouraging us to recycle the newspapers and cans at home to telling us to wash our hands before a ‘snack’ or a meal and turn off the water from a running sink. The simple suggestions that Sesame Street has taught generations of kids is evident in thousands of adults and children and the small behaviors and good habits they learned through the program. Many times, these lessons can spur even an adult to do the ‘right thing’ especially when they are questioned (or even challenged) by a child who is a Sesame Street watcher. Such lessons can make all the difference in the world and they can also have the biggest personal payoff when least expected. Imagine the look on a parent’s face when their child asks them about being ‘ready for an emergency.’

The press release announcing the partnership cited a “recent national survey commissioned by the Children’s Health Fund, approximately 65 percent of families in the United States do not have an emergency plan that all family members are aware of. And there’s another problem: Spanish-language resources aimed at helping families with emergency preparedness are sorely lacking.”

That statistic is staggering, especially in light of the destruction we have watched occur over the past two weeks with Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike. While many of us can shake our heads questioning the judgment (and sanity) of people who did not evacuate from the immediate path of Hurricane Ike, the fact that children are being talked to about what they should do with their families in event of an emergency could do a lot to get more families engaged with preparedness.

For years, schools of all types have taken part in the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) ‘Learn Not to Burn Campaign’ which has taught kids what to do in the event of a fire. From coming home with the worksheet to plan an exit from the home and defining a gathering point for the family, to learning to simply ‘Stop, Drop and Roll,’ this campaign has saved countless lives. All of this education has occurred in a ‘positive, non-threatening manner’ and it has made a difference.

The same holds true for what the Ready Team and Sesame Street are offering our kids.

When a child questions a parent about a ‘right or wrong,’ often times the parent is put in the position of having to explain something very difficult and confusing, if not outright uncomfortable. Regardless of whatever the question may be, the child deserves an answer.

When that same child asks a question such as “What do we do in case of an emergency,’ the parent is going to be put in the position of explaining. That is a question that absolutely deserves a thorough answer and ignoring it is not an option in my book. Unfortunately the survey results cited by the Children’s Health Fund indicate that too many parents don’t have an answer to what is a basic and potentially life altering question. That has to change.

If a child asking a parent that question spurs the family take action – all the better. That’s the point of this partnership. Having allies like Sesame Street’s Grover and Rosita to ‘coach’ the youngest of us along the way (and spur parents to action) may make all the difference to moving that 65% unprepared family figure to a more positive number and a more prepared nation.

Congratulations to the Ready Team and Sesame Street on a great partnership!

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More