The Pillowcase Project Offers Planning And Protection

by Amanda Barnett

Could a pillowcase save you during a disaster? That is the hope behind the American Red Cross’ Pillowcase Project that is teaching kids how to prepare for emergencies.

“[The Red Cross] needs to come up with a way to talk to kids, to share with them about what happens in emergencies,” Lynda Smallback, a Red Cross volunteer who teaches the Pillowcase Project in the Kansas and Oklahoma area, said. “That’s [why the Red Cross] started the Pillowcase Project: to encourage kids to put together a special pillowcase with important things that they might need in an emergency.” 

Children and students who participate in The Pillowcase Project learn how to prepare for emergencies such as fires and tornadoes. They also learn coping skills for the stress that comes during disasters.

The Pillowcase Project recommends putting items you will need in the wake of an emergency in your pillowcase. These items can include things like a coat, shoes, medicine kit, a flashlight, a canteen for water, and a whistle if you get stuck somewhere. 

The idea for the project began after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005. College students at Loyola University in New Orleans had to evacuate to a Red Cross shelter and only had a few minutes to pack up their belongings. Students at the university used pillowcases to pack their belongings. 

The project has grown and now includes corporate sponsors such as Disney which has allowed it to expand around the world.

During a fire, the Pillowcase Project instructs children to get out of the house in two minutes or less. They learn to use the back of their hand to touch the doorknob to see if it is hot. If it is hot, students learn not to open that door and instead they should go through a window. If the doorknob is not hot, participants learn to open the door and look down the hall to see if the fire is nearby. If not, they can leave your house through a normal exit, but if the fire is nearby, they should leave the house through a window. 

The Red Cross also teaches children they should have a family meeting spot outside, keep emergency contacts on hand, ensure their smoke detectors are working and be prepared with a pre-packed emergency pillowcase.

In Oklahoma, tornadoes are a common emergency situation that can impact children and families. For this situation, the Red Cross recommends having as many walls as possible between you and the outdoors. That means taking that packed pillowcase with you to an interior room with no windows, a basement or storm shelter when a tornado warning is issued.

The Red Cross also teaches children what to do if their family is in a car during a tornado. Ideally, you should never be in a car during a tornado and you will be much safer in a structure. However, if the storm catches you on the road the Red Cross said the driver should drive into a ditch and everyone should keep their seatbelt on and put their hands behind their neck until the tornado passes.

The Pillowcase Project also teaches ways to calm down during an emergency, such as breathing in and out and thinking of your favorite place to be. By talking about emergencies they might face the project hopes being prepared will help children better cope when they are faced with dangerous situations.

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