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A new project between the University of Rhode Island (URI) – with the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant as partners – and Westerly High School of Westerly, R.I., is focused on encouraging students – and by extension, their families and school community – to assess how well prepared they are for weather emergencies, such as hurricanes, or the longer-term change that comes from sea level rise.

This month, ninth- and 10th-graders at Westerly High School will make use of a new online program so they can assess their readiness for themselves. The information will help URI researchers learn more about behavior change in terms of emergency preparedness and better gauge which tools best support this change.

Dr. James Prochaska
Dr. James Prochaska

“Students Creating Change: Reducing Our Risk from Natural Disaster,” is a voluntary project and engages students who receive parental or guardian permission. Students taking part in the program receive information about preparedness and readiness activities that can be applied by a family and carried out at home with little or no cost.

The project team is led by Dr. James Prochaska as an extension of his work for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, which focuses on risk communication to motivate individual actions. URI CRC Coastal Manager and Sea Grant Extension Agent Pam Rubinoff, who is also part of the DHS work, is helping lead the outreach effort.

“In the past we have helped high school students reduce health risks, such as inadequate exercise and unhealthy eating,” said Dr. Prochaska, a URI psychology researcher and director of the university’s Cancer Prevention Research Center. “Now we are researching how such students can help their families reduce their risks by becoming better prepared for severe storms.”

Pam Rubinoff
Pam Rubinoff

“In light of so much severe weather across the country and in Rhode Island, Westerly school administrators, with unanimous support from our school committee, view this partnership with the University of Rhode Island as an excellent opportunity to further strengthen our commitment to enhancing both our students’ and their families’ health and wellbeing,” Westerly High School Principal Todd Grimes said. “This educational collaboration can benefit all students who participate since it addresses health standards and serves to enhance our health curriculum and our coastal community.”

The project is funded by the Rhode Island Research Alliance and is part of a larger URI research effort to engage in the DHS initiative to understand and gather the best approaches and tools for building emergency preparedness in coastal communities nationwide.

“Protecting ourselves from storms and sea level rise clearly starts at home, at school, and within the foundations of community,” Rubinoff said. “It’s thrilling to bring the science and research to bear in these truly useful, practical activities.”

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