Hurricane Expo focuses on educating children

HOLIDAY - Children quickly swarmed around Hilary Noriga, a member of the Radio Disney promotions team, as she announced over the microphone that the relay race was about to begin.

"It's time for the Emergency Preparedness Kit Relay Race!" Noriga said as kids formed two lines facing her.

In front of each line was a pile of items the children were asked to sort through. Each line was told to snag an item appropriate for an emergency kit and race down the gymnasium one at a time to toss it into a bin. Items included water bottles, canned food, flashlights, whistles, balloons, toys and a Disney Mickey doll.

"Ready! Set! Go!" The crowd cheered on the kids as they rushed to beat the opposing team. In the end, both teams tied and all the participants won Iron Man 3D glasses and an Avengers poster.

A bit of fun, such as activities, prizes and live music, livened up educational tips about the storm season during the June 8 event at the J. Ben Harrill Recreation Center. Pasco County and The Suncoast News presented the free expo.

This was the first time in 19 years that Hurricane Expo organizers sought to specifically target children at the event. Much like current adults grew up with the mindset of "Safety First" and the importance of buckling your seat belt, Pasco Emergency Management Director Annette Doying hopes to instill the importance of emergency preparedness in younger generations.

"Typically participants of the Hurricane Expo are older adults," Doying said. "We are trying to dig down into the demographic of families and kids."

Doying said it got to the point where 80 percent of the people at the Hurricane Expo each year had been there before. So she wanted to reach new people, especially younger individuals and those who have just moved to Florida.

To draw in a younger crowd, organizers partnered with Radio Disney, which went into Pasco County Schools prior to the expo treat students to a preview of some of the fun and games to expect at the Hurricane Expo.

"If you're only reaching the same 800 people in a community of half a million, you need to rethink your approach," Doying said.

Aside from activities like the relay race, which teach children about creating emergency kits, Radio Disney also fielded a scavenger hunt that required kids to get a stamp on a Bingo-like board from every booth. That way, Doying said, vendors can talk to them about hurricane preparedness.

Vendors included Home Inventory Shield, Florida Forest Service, United Way of Pasco, Poison Information Center, Ierna's Heating and Cooling, American Medical Response, Home Depot, Professional Window Installation, AAA Insurance, Community Emergency Response Team, Tampa Bay Builders Association, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, and more.

Holiday resident Tiffany Sibert said that events like the Hurricane Expo help her teach her kids how to prepare for hurricanes so they aren't scared. Her three sons participated in the scavenger hunt and won T-shirts for completing their stamp collection.

"Last year during Tropical Storm Debbie, I think I was more scared than they were," Siebert said.

Christiana Kittles, 14, was shy to talk about what she learned from the expo but her mother, Harriet, said they both had a better understanding of where to go and what to do if they were evacuated during a storm.

Steve Jerve, chief meteorologist for News Channel 8, took storm preparation questions from the audience, and Lynne McChristian from the Insurance Information Institute shared her insights on how to ensure a home or business is adequately covered.

Pasco officials were on hand to field questions, such as housing pets during a crisis. City officials from New Port Richey and Port Richey attended, along with staff members from Pasco Emergency Management, Pasco County Public Transportation and other county division and departments, including stormwater management, floodplain management, elderly nutrition, animal services, community development and planning and growth management.