FEMA Rolls Out New PSA in Time for 9/11 Anniversary

Calamity training for kids

The approach of still another anniversary of 9/11 probably doesn’t seem like the best hook for a marketing campaign. And it isn’t—unless, of course, you happen to be the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The government agency has, for all-too-apparent reasons, designated September as National Preparedness Month, and has just rolled out what has to be one of the year’s more challenging public-service marketing initiatives: a disaster-awareness kit—for children.

How do you teach kids about apocalyptic events like wildfires, tornados and earthquakes without scaring the hell out of them? Agency CarrotNewYork picked an unlikely but unabashed method: Turn disasters into a graphic novel, casting kids as the superheroes. A bit of white-knuckled but informative adventure awaits on FEMA’s new microsite, where a game called "Disaster Master" safely escorts players through a range of catastrophes (15—count ‘em!), imparting life-saving advice along the way. Illustrated with a cast of anime-like characters, the site also boasts an interactive module that helps children build their own virtual emergency kits, and tips for parents on how to handle children’s emotional responses to disasters.

"Our goal was to help FEMA empower youth with knowledge, awareness and life-protecting skills," said Deb Levy, CarrotNewYork's creative director. "We chose a graphic-novel approach to take an intimidating topic and make it accessible to kids and make them feel empowered, not frightened."

Just for the record, the site also deftly manages the elephant in the room, terrorism. Located discreetly at the bottom of the page is a click box for the Department of Homeland Security that takes you to information pages about topics like biological threats and “Nuclear Blast.” Even real superheroes could probably use the tips on that one.