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Tonight's Homework Assignment: Prepare for Disaster

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It's one thing when government officials set education policy, but for some students in Michigan, the government is giving them homework. 

It could save their lives.

Since 2012, more than 9,000 Michigan 5th graders have participated in a disaster-preparedness program developed by teachers and sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

The Student Tools for Emergency Planning (STEP) program teaches students how to prepare for emergencies and common weather-related natural disasters in their communities, such as wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

For homework, students have to teach their families what they learned in school and develop family evacuation and communications plans.

Fifth grade students are the optimal age to make the program work, according to an article earlier this month in Emergency Management magazine.

"Basically FEMA did a study and found 5th grade students were the perfect age to embrace and take ownership about emergencies. And they're pretty pushy with their parents in getting the message out to them," Wendy Galbreath, a state preparedness officer with the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division of the Michigan State Police, told the magazine.

The program is available for all 5th grade classes across the country.

Teachers who commit to a one-hour base lesson receive free lesson-planning materials, including DVDs, disaster game cards, and student handouts.  There are another 8 to 10 hours of supplemental lessons available online.

Each student in participating classes receives a backpack stocked with blankets, whistles, flashlights, extra batteries, and other basic emergency supplies.

FEMA has made it a priority in recent years to make sure that children know how to protect themselves and their families in the event of disasters.  "Children are disproportionately impacted by disasters," warns a joint FEMA and American Red Cross report released earlier this week, "yet insufficient attention has been given to preparing this population."

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