By Gabriel Martinez, AmeriCorps serving the American Red Cross NW Region
I give a lot of disaster preparedness presentations for the Red Cross. I have enough experience now that I can often predict audience questions before they are even asked.
“Where should I hide from an earthquake if I’m at home?”
“Can I just punch out the window if my room is on fire?”
“Can I go back inside my house and rescue my pets during a fire?
One thing I’m unable to predict is how interested an audience will be. That was the case at a recent presentation at Safe Futures, an organization that serves at-risk youth in West Seattle. As I walked in a staff member greeted me and told me that the kids at Safe Futures were between fourth and eighth grades with diverse backgrounds. Most of them, she added, might not want to sit and listen to an after school presentation. But she assured me, she’d be close by if it got rowdy.
Kids will be kids, and I didn’t let the warning shake me. But sure enough, the kids were loud and full of energy. I stepped into the middle of them and began to speak with a loud voice which I’d developed as a camp counselor in the past.
“All eyes forward, please!” I called. All 16 of them looked up.
The kids immediately perked up, even yelled at each other to be quiet when I began to speak. The presentation I gave was called “Passport to Preparedness,” which teaches students to be prepared for local hazards—such as earthquakes and floods—and house fires. We discussed how to take shelter during an earthquake, the best ways to avoid floods, and the importance of creating an emergency family meeting point in case of a house fire or other emergency.
The presentation was intended for the kids, but I noticed staff members coming out of their offices to listen. Instead of the usual half an hour, I stayed longer to answer extra questions and describe my experiences with earthquakes when I lived in Costa Rica.
“Some people screamed during the first earthquake I was in,” I said. “and a few people stood up to leave. The entire building shook like a big truck was driving through it. Then the earthquake ended.”
“During winter break, there was an earthquake in downtown Seattle,” I said. “Did you hear about it?”
The kids were silent.
“Hardly anyone noticed except for some scientists who study that sort of thing,” I continued.
The kids all began to talk at once with excitement.
I don’t always feel like I’ve made an impact on someone’s life after a presentation like this, but today felt I did. While I might not always be sure of how many students actually go home and develop a disaster preparedness plan, I am almost always able to create a positive relationship with my audiences. But I can say without a doubt that the kids at Safe Futures were the most animated and curious so far—and hopefully now safer.