The American Red Cross launched The Pillowcase Project for third-graders through fifth-graders after noticing how many people in the Gulf Coast region Hurricane Katrina caught unaware in 2005. The Red Cross of Northern New England launched the project in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine about six years ago. More than 12,000 kids throughout the three states have taken part since then.

“We talk about a local hazard, so we talk about — here in Northern New England — the winter storm,” Red Cross of Northern New England regional preparedness manager Abby Kelly said. “Then we talk about a coping skill because, as you can imagine, during any kind of an emergency, our brains aren’t necessarily calm.”

Our region’s most notable natural disaster in recent memory — 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene — isn’t part of the training, per se. However, Irene did lead to widespread flooding, which is one of the local hazards to which the program is tailored. The project also incorporates fire safety and its own namesake.

“What the pillowcase is supposed to be is basically a go kit for these kids, so that if they were in an emergency and they needed a kit quickly to get and go, they would have their pillowcase packed with their stuff,” Kelly said.

There’s also a precursor program for younger children called Prepare With Pedro.

“What we were finding was that one of the biggest reasons we lose children in a fire was that when they hear smoke detectors, they get scared and they hide,” Kelly said.

Kindergarteners through second-graders can meet Pedro — a very friendly penguin — through an interactive story. He goes to his best friend’s house, where they practice an escape plan and a breathing exercise as a coping skill for anxiety.

Both programs can be done virtually — and are free of charge. “We are looking for these kids not only to make themselves safe, but also their households safer and even out into the greater community,” Kelly said.

If you want to sign up your child for either The Pillowcase Project or Prepare With Pedro, you can email Kelly at .