The Safe America Foundation and the Motorola Foundation originally partnered with the USA TODAY Charitable Foundation to create this groundbreaking educational initiative: Teach the importance of disaster preparedness by utilizing a “Text Messaging for Safety” model.

  • Middle and High School
  • Six-week, project-based learning activity
  • Lessons are completed using USA TODAY
  • Includes teacher instructions and rubric

“It is never too early to educate society on the importance of planned communication in the event of an emergency.

Through this program, children across the United States will gain an appreciation for emergency preparedness and obtain the communication skills needed to evaluate a disaster effectively.”

– Eileen Sweeney, director of Motorola Foundation


“Tomorrow’s leaders are in school… today ! Know that our goal is to have students ‘mentally ready’ to respond to emergencies… and not be passive.

Education is a key to being ready. That’s why we appreciate your incorporating this material in your lesson plan. Know that YOU are helping make America more resilient… and better able to bounce back from things that otherwise could cripple our next generation.”

– Len Pagano, President & CEO, Safe America Foundation



From natural disasters to terrorist attacks, our nation faces many threats. We must strive to be Prepared, Not Scared
in the face of such emergencies. In this project, you will investigate a threat to your community and create a series
of text messages to inform and guide your community through the emergency.

As you work through this project, consider participating in other emergency preparedness activities in your community,
such as organizing a 9/11 Drill Down for Safety.

Week 1: A Prepared Community

In the event of an emergency, the whole community must be prepared. Throughout this project, we will focus our
attention on four groups within our community: teens, parents, school administrators and business owners. The first
step is to research our audience and learn as much as possible about community preparedness.


Obtain a recent issue of USA TODAY. We will try to better understand these four groups (teens, parents, school administrators,
and business owners) of our community by reading through the newspaper and identifying the articles
that are important to each.

– Read through USA TODAY, recording the headlines that are most relevant to each group.
– Synthesize the list of headlines into the two to four major issues that most concern each group.


In the wake of national-scale emergencies such as September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, several organizations, including
federal agencies, have made a concerted effort to improve national emergency preparedness. The organizations
maintain excellent websites with a wealth of information.

– Visit SafeAmerica ( and
– Examine these websites from the perspective of your group.
– Record 3 to 5 important tips for emergency-preparedness that are relevant to your group

Week 2: Today’s Threats

The greatest challenge in preparing for emergencies is that we never know what the next crisis will be. In this activity,
we will examine a variety of threats that face our nation. As a group, you will identify one particular threat on
which you will base your project.


Obtain a recent issue of USA TODAY. We will use the newspaper to look for threats to our society and economy.

– Read through USA TODAY, recording headlines related to current or possible emergencies.
– Review the completed list, attempting to consolidate the threats into general categories.
– Denote on your list which (if any) group in the community would be most affected by each threat.


As you consider your list from USA TODAY and you examine the website below, remember to choose a threat that
will be particularly relevant to your part of the country and the people in your community.

– Navigate to:
– Read the brief excerpts about the wide variety of threats that a community could face.
– Identify the one threat, either from USA TODAY or from the website that your group will focus on for
the remainder of the project.

Week 3: Survey the Community

In an emergency situation, knowledge can save lives. In this activity, you will research your threat, develop a brief
survey, and determine what the people in your community already know about this type of emergency. Later in the
project, you will use this information as you create relevant safety messages for your community.


Each group member should individually research the identified threat, then return to the group to compare and
compile your research.

– Use and other websites to research your threat.
– Identify five to ten facts about your threat, how to prepare for it, and how to safely respond if/when it occurs.
– Return to your group, share your findings, and compile your research.
– As a group, create a five to ten question survey based on the facts you compiled.


Each group member will use the survey to poll at least ten members of the community.

Each group member should poll at least two teens, two parents, two school administrators and two business

Carefully record your results.

Week 4: Compiling the Results

The data collected from your surveys will provide information that can be useful in constructing your safety messages.
Try to determine what information your community members need to know based on their answers to the
survey questions.


Obtain a recent issue of USA TODAY. We will examine the surveys and graphs in the newspaper in order to guide
the graphing of our own survey data.

– Scan the newspaper for graphs and surveys.
– Record what elements of these graphs make them look professional, appealing and compelling.


As a group, you will try to summarize your survey results by creating an accurate and readable graph.

– Compile the results from each member’s survey into a single document.
– Create a visually appealing and accurate graph or graphs of the survey results.
– Use the graph or graphs to identify misconceptions that should be addressed in your safety messages.

Week 5: Composing Safety Text Messages

Each of the four groups of the community will have their own concerns and responsibilities in the event of an
emergency. It is likely that each group in the community also has their own misconceptions about the threat in
question. In this activity, you will compose a series of safety text messages tailored to each group in the community
as well as for the community as a whole. These text messages could be used by your city or county government if
the threat became a reality.


Your text messages will be most effective if they are based on the research that you have conducted. Use your survey
results to inform the types of message that you will send out to various members of the community.

– Examine your survey results for any patterns, paying particular attention to differences in how teens,
parents, school administrators, and business owners responded to the survey questions.

– Brainstorm four text message concepts that would be relevant to the whole community. These four messages
could be sequential: before, during, and after the emergency; or perhaps they could differ based
on the severity of the emergency. Feel free to use your imagination.

– Brainstorm two text message concepts specifically tailored to each group of teens, parents, school
administrators, and business owners. Consider what information will be particularly relevant to these
individuals based on the type of threat and what your survey showed they already know.


Now you are ready to construct the actual text messages. Use the concepts you generated to type out the exact
text message you would recommend sending in the event of an emergency. Remember that text messages are
limited to 160 characters, and since this will be used in an emergency situation, you should avoid using text slang
that not everyone will know.

– Write four text messages that would be relevant for the whole community.
– Write two text messages for each specific group, (teens, parents, school administrators and business owners).
– Your group should generate twelve text messages total.

Week 6: Presenting the Results

The last step is creating a brief presentation to share your text messages with your class and possibly with your
community leaders.


Your group will bring together all of your work into a four-minute presentation. To make your presentation effective,
only show the best examples of your work.

– Compile your research and survey results to create an engaging introduction to the threat.
– Choose a few of your best text messages to share during your presentations.
– Create an engaging visual aid to support your presentation.


Before presenting to the class, rehearse as a group to make your presentation stronger.

– Give your presentation in front of the class.
– Model professionalism as though you are presenting to your community leaders.

Extension: Present to Community Leaders (Optional)

Your emergency text messages will only serve a larger purpose if they are implemented. Refine your presentation
based on your teacher’s feedback and seek an opportunity to share your presentation with community leaders. You
may consider presenting your text messages to your school board or local government.

Teacher’s Edition

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