America Responds
Rescue workers raising the flag
Grieving man
Rescue workers
President and Mrs. Bush
Classroom Resources

Emergency Preparedness
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)
Estimated Time: Three one-hour sessions

Lesson Overview:
Introduce students to governmental and humanitarian response mechanisms for natural and man-made disasters. Students research and report on a variety of organizations, including the Red Cross, FEMA, and more; as an extension, students learn about locally- and regionally-based resources, like the National Guard.

Related National Standards from McREL:

  • Knows community health consumer organizations and the advocacy services they provide
  • Knows local, state, federal, and private agencies that protect and/or inform the individual
  • Knows local, state, federal, and international efforts to contain an environmental crisis and prevent a recurrence
  • Understands the focus on the school, community, state, and nation in American society (e.g., people should help others who are less fortunate than they and assist them in times of need, emergency, or natural disaster)
  • Knows services that are provided by charitable, religious, and civic groups in the community (e.g., health, child, and elderly care; disaster relief; counseling; tutoring; basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter)
  • Knows that some of the goods and services we use are provided by the government (e.g., schools, parks, police and fire protection)


  • Computer(s) with Internet connection
  • Desktop publishing software program (optional)
  • Paper, pen


  1. Begin by asking how many students watched or listened to some kind of media coverage about the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Besides the victims, what other people did students see at the scene of these terrible attacks? (Possible answers may include firefighters, TV reporters, police officers, etc.).

  2. What types of disasters require this type of large-scale emergency response? What examples can students recall? (Possible answers might include earthquakes, hurricanes, plane crashes, and more). If students had to classify these disasters into categories, how might they do so? Explain to students that most national and international agencies describe disasters as "natural" or "man-made." Ask them to classify the examples they've just provided. NOVA's "Escape" Web site provides additional insight about some of these disasters, including survival strategies and survivor stories.

  3. Explain to students that they are going to learn more about the individuals and organizations that respond to natural and man-made disasters. Before beginning, invite students to name organizations that they might already know that do this kind of work (the Red Cross, etc.).

  4. Divide students into groups, and assign each group one of the following organizations. Others may be found by conducting an Internet search using the keywords "disaster relief."

  5. Each group should prepare a brief presentation about its group's history, mission, services provided, regions served, and special accomplishments. This presentation should be shared with the rest of the class.

  6. Each group should then do one of the following:
    • Write a letter of commendation to the organization that they researched, citing its special accomplishments. The letter might also be sent to the local paper for publication.
    • Design a certificate of appreciation for the organization, and send it to the national (or international) headquarters.
    • Design a simple educational exhibit about the organization, to be displayed with the exhibits of other groups in a school "Hall of Heroism."

  7. As a follow up, research emergency preparedness in your community, state, or region. Check with local law enforement and safety officials about emergency planning. Talk with local broadcasters about the Emergency Alert System (formerly the Emergency Broadcast System). Research your area's National Guard units, and find out when they were last called into duty. You might design certificates, letters, or exhibits about these local organizations, too.

Student understanding should be assessed through:

  • contribution to class discussion
  • group research project on a disaster relief/emergency aid organization
  • letter, certificate, or exhibit on the organization researched
  • interviews and/or research on locally-based emergency preparedness efforts

PBS Primetime Coverage
PBS provided nightly coverage and analysis of the terrorist attacks on the United States with "America Responds."

Key PBS Resources:

Online NewsHour
Ongoing coverage and analysis.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Helping children cope.