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Scouting out risk communication field research

As the Daisy and Brownie troop from Barclay Elementary and Middle School built marshmallow and toothpick “buildings,” START intern Brenna Means keenly watched, taking notes that could eventually inform risk communication best practices. She was observing an emergency preparedness program put on by a Johns Hopkins University professor and graduate students with and for the Girl Scouts.

Means and researchers on START’s Risk Communication and Resilience (RCR) team attended to support the initiative, study how the children engaged with the emergency preparedness curriculum and assess if the lessons learned by the children were further communicated to their families. 

“We are interested in learning more about the role children play in building community resilience,” said Holly Roberts, RCR project manager. “Not a lot of work has been done in this arena, but what we have seen suggests that children are very effective – and persuasive – communicators.”

During the event, the girls participated in a discussion about different types of disasters, played a game of “telephone” to demonstrate how easily emergency messages can change, and decorated their own first aid and emergency kits.  Earning their Emergency Preparedness badges, the Girl Scouts were taught to use whistles and flashlights to signal distress, and through their marshmallow creations, they learned about how earthquakes can affect building structures.

START’s RCR team will follow up with the program participants this fall to see if and how they shared any information with their families or communities.

Means said the girls were extremely attentive to the information and that she wouldn’t be surprised if they went home and taught their parents and siblings what they had learned here.

“Children watch and model their behavior after adults and authority figures in their life,” she said. “In what I’ve studied of Social Learning Theory, children have to be interested and engaged to retain the information that is being thrown their way.  These girls definitely were – they really got a huge kick out of the activities.”

The program is a part of the Emergency Preparedness Patch Program, created by the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and FEMA’s Citizen Corps to help girls identify potential local risks and emergencies, prepare themselves and their families for emergencies, and discover ways to get involved in community emergency planning.

START’s research is funded through an award from the National Science Foundation’s Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS) solicitation.