Curriculum trains children to act as disaster preparedness ambassadors to their families

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In Brief

Houston, Texas, is susceptible to seasonal hurricanes and other disasters due to its proximity to the Gulf Coast. To address this vulnerability, city and school planners implemented a disaster preparedness curriculum in Houston schools. The curriculum used targeted information and homework assignments to train elementary school children to act as preparedness ambassadors to their families. Teachers implemented the program in 57 classrooms, and its messages reached just under 5,000 people.


In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit southeastern Texas, causing evacuation warnings, drinking water shortages, road and power line damage, and enforced nighttime curfews in Houston. Several schools were closed due to unsafe conditions, and many families suffered displacement or home damage.

Specific issues

  • Family preparedness needs. Based on surveys administered after Hurricane Ike, 14% of Houston households (N=942) did not know how to be prepared for an event like a hurricane.
  • Gaps identified by survey. Responses from families surveyed revealed lack of: a written communication plan; a home and care supply kit; knowledge about how to receive safety information during a disaster; and knowledge about evacuation procedures, sheltering in place, and applying for transportation assistance.

The practice

Project SECURE Gulf Coast developed a disaster curriculum for Houston schools intended to promote preparedness education for children, and between children and their families.

Project SECURE (Science, Education, and Community United to Respond to Emergencies) Gulf Coast is a consortium of academic medical and public health institutions and centers. In collaboration with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Project SECURE Gulf Coast developed the "Disaster Ambassador Preparedness Program (DAPP)" for schools in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The 2-year project included both a school disaster preparedness curriculum and a study of parents' responses and actions to what their children were learning in school.

The DAPP provided preparedness education to schoolchildren so that they, in turn, would act as ambassadors to their families and encourage preparedness at home. Project SECURE Gulf Coast trained more than 57 elementary health and physical education teachers working in the HISD to offer a disaster preparedness curriculum that corresponded to state educational standards. Of these, 32 teachers delivered the DAPP curriculum to their 4th-grade or combination 3rd-to-5th-grade classes in 2011.

In four sessions of the DAPP program, students learned a variety of preparedness skills they could share with their families, including: 1) how to make a family emergency plan; 2) items to store in a family emergency supply kit; 3) ways to receive up-to-date information during a disaster; and 4) how to sign up for transportation assistance. Teachers also assigned take-home activities that could help children teach preparedness lessons to their families. All parents received a survey that measured changes in attitude, knowledge, perceived susceptibility to disasters, and preparedness behaviors both before and after their children received the curriculum.

What made this practice possible?

  • Institutions involved in Project SECURE Gulf Coast contributed to various parts of the DAPP project and its evaluation. Members of the consortium include the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Tulane University, Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, and Meharry Medical College.
  • A partnership between Houston Department of Health and Human Services, the Houston Independent School District, and Texas AgrilLIFE Extension Service was integral to the development of the DAPP project. Texas AgrilLIFE Extension Service, a community-based education program at Texas A&M, provided the curriculum, along with technical assistance for the school district as it trained teachers and students.


  • The DAPP project reached 4,744 people with preparedness information, including 57 teachers, 942 parents, and 3,745 elementary students.
  • Pre- and post-test survey results showed that after implementation of the DAPP program, more people understood that Houston is susceptible to a hurricane in the next 2 years, had a written plan for communicating with their families during a disaster, prepared supply kits for their homes and/or cars, knew how to find the information they would need to stay safe, and understood how to access transportation assistance.
  • Project SECURE Gulf Coast reported that teachers involved in the DAPP project intend to incorporate the program into their usual yearly curricula.


Planners recommended that the program be offered annually directly before the start of the hurricane season, thus enhancing its relevance and usefulness to Houston families. 

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