Magazine article Training & Development

A Training Success Story

Magazine article Training & Development

A Training Success Story

Article excerpt

A Training Success Story

On October 24, 1981, most of Alaska's firefighters were spending their Saturday night glued to their television sets watching Big Bird, the Cookie Monster, and the rest of the Sesame Street gang. Many of Alaska's medical professionals, teachers, and parents were tuned to the same program.

The fire-safety program was an experiment designed for caretakers of preschool children. Children in that age group are at a particularly high risk for fire injuries.

The program was developed by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in conjunction with Sesame Street's producer, the Children's Television Workshop.

The Alaska Fire Marshall's Office had asked USFA to present the program as a training class for fire, medical, preschool, and day-care workers. But what sounded like a reasonable request quickly ran up against a reality in Alaska: a widely dispersed training audience. Alaska's state and federal funds couldn't cover the cost of transporting trainers to hundreds of small, scattered communities. Nor could the state's budget bear the expense of convening such a dispersed audience at one location.

Alaska Fire Education Officer Ira Bryant and USFA Project Manager Clay Hollister mulled over the problem. Their solution was television.

Their idea was to broadcast a live television program to Alaska's communities via a satellite called Satcom II and the state's television networks, Learn Alaska and Rural Alaska. They planned for the interactive program to provide toll-free phone numbers so that viewers could call in with questions to be answered on the air.

Viewer response to the broadcast was overwhelming. The fire marshall's office was flooded with letters that requested written material and a rebroadcast. The program aired three times to an estimated viewing audience of more than 75,000 people. The cost to the federal government was $1.80 per viewer for the initial broadcast and only pennies per viewer for the two rebroadcasts.

Safety network

More than nine years later, FEMA continues to use television for training. After the 1981 statewide test broadcast, the agency established the Emergency Education Network (EENET) - a one-way video, two-way audio, satellite-distributed videoconferencing system.

EENET provides training and education to state and local government emergency-management personnel all over the world. Today, the viewing audience is likely to include Mexico's ministry of health as well as preschool teachers in Alaska.

EENET broadcasts to about 14,000 locations and 120,000 viewers. Each program also goes to several hundred cable television systems, expanding the audience even more. And the numbers grow larger as programs are added to the system. EENET has become the largest distance-learning project in the world. Yet, the cost to the federal government is less than 12 cents per student hour.

The broadcasts cover a wide array of emergency-management problems, programs, and issues. They range from emergency situations involving hazardous materials to those resulting from natural disasters. Each four-and-a-half-hour program is a stand-alone training activity.

Mission statements

EENET's broadcasts reflect the goals expressed by its parent agency, FEMA. FEMA's mission is to protect the civilian population, guard national resources, and preserve the continuity of constitutional government during emergencies. The programs train emergency personnel to prepare for, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from disasters and emergencies of all kinds - including natural, technological, terrorist, and wartime.

EENET serves as FEMA's outreach tool for supplementing and enhancing its overall training efforts. And satellite technology is a cost-effective tool for providing that training to communities around the world. …

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