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Rocket Rules: Earthquake Materials for Children

Since 2017, SCEC and the Hero and You Foundation have been working together to create earthquake education and preparedness resources for young children ages 5-9. The foundation, founded by Rick and Bunni Benaron, was inspired in part by Bunni’s mother who as a retired nurse helped neighbors after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The Benaron’s initially created their foundation to recognize other first responders through the donation of large sculptures of a dalmatian fire dog (originally called “R. Hero”) for installation at fire departments, museums, libraries, and children’s hospitals. As of 2020 there are 30 such sculptures across the U.S. El Salvador, and Israel.

More recently, the Foundation has been focused on providing safety resources for children ages 5-9, based on Bunni's experience as a kindergarten and first grade school teacher for 10 years in south central Los Angeles when she learned that children needed calm and friendly safety guidance. They began by creating a set of child safety videos for five basic safety rules (Be Prepared, Stay Calm, Follow the Plan, Stay in Your Safe Zone, and Call for Help), each featuring an animated dog named Rocket. “We wanted to do more to educate students, with animated videos and booklets,” according to Bunni. “Rocket is our spokesperson and ambassador for safety.” WIth these videos created, they also began offering a unique interactive school assembly, where students could interact live with an animated Rocket via Skype.

In 2017 they began to also create resources for individual emergencies; starting with fires and then earthquakes. As they now live in Rancho Mirage, CA, they reached out to Dr. Dennis Mileti who was well known in the city for encouraging earthquake preparedness. As the retired director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, he has been an advisor to the SCEC Communication, Education, and Outreach program for many years, including as a member of the SCEC Advisory Council. Once hearing of their plans he connected us together so that we could provide guidance for the earthquake science and preparedness messaging within the video, which was released in the summer of 2017 in both English and Spanish.

Rocket's Earthquake Safety AdventureSoon after we also provided input on a new storybook, Rocket’s Earthquake Safety Adventure, which includes similar content as the video within a full-color story featuring Rocket and several friends (also available in both English and Spanish). This beautifully illustrated new resource was featured at the 2017 Great ShakeOut media event at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum with copies distributed to all attendees. The Rocket Rules team also debuted a new earthquake song performed by a small group of dancers who encouraged others to join in and learn how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On “when the earth starts to rock and roll.”

This song and dance then led to the development in 2018 of the Rocket Rules #SHAKEmob Challenge in partnership with SCEC and ShakeOut, which rewarded classes that completed safety activities and performed the earthquake song dance as a sort of flashmob, which in this case was called a “SHAKEmob.”  In its first year the program was offered to any 2nd grade classroom in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and also to after school programs statewide. All classrooms that participated received the Rocket’s Earthquake Safety Adventure story books, while selected schools also received emergency preparedness supplies. Then for ShakeOut day in 2018, students from Holmes Avenue Elementary school near downtown Los Angeles performed the dance at Los Angeles City Hall, where the primary media event was held. 

Later in 2018, a special event commemorating the 10-year anniversary of ShakeOut was held at the newly-opened Los Angeles County Fire Museum in Bellflower. Key leaders in the history of ShakeOut were recognized, and the Hero in You Foundation was recognized with a special “Rising Star” award for their work in creating these resources and activities in partnership with SCEC and ShakeOut.  This work expanded nationally in 2019 when a revised SHAKEmob Challenge was opened to any class across the country.

Rocket Rules Earthquake Activity BookBecause of the popularity of the original storybook, in 2020 we collaborated together again to create Rocket’s Earthquake Safety Activity Book, which includes simple activities for learning how to secure furniture and objects, what supplies should go in a go bag, basic earthquake science concepts, and how to Drop, Cover and Hold On during shaking or when you receive an earthquake early warning (the new book also includes content and guidance from the USGS ShakeAlert program, which provided funding so that the booklet could be translated into nine languages!) The story book and the activity book are both now available for free download at RocketRules.org/earthquake, and high-quality printed copies can be purchased (though many continue to be distributed at no charge). 

Finally, as part of several COVID-19 messaging adaptations created for the 2020 ShakeOut, to support schools and organizations that still wanted to hold drills SCEC created a set of new drill leader presentations to use during distance learning or online meetings. The K-4 version features Rocket prominently, including the original earthquake video and graphics of Rocket performing Drop, Cover, and Hold On.  The Hero in You Foundation has also created a set of COVID-19 Health safety videos, and has been asked by LAUSD to make a video featuring Rocket and a nurse administering a COVID test to a child. 

We look forward to continuing this partnership between SCEC and the Hero in You Foundation!  If you have ideas for additional topics or new ways to prepare and educate young children, please contact me (benthien@usc.edu) or Bunni Benaron at bunni@rocketrules.org.