March 29, 2024

Forward Focus: Public Safety Agencies Collaborate to Enhance Safety Squad Program’s Curriculum

The program aligns with initiatives in the FY24-25 Focused Action Plan to educate residents on the importance of emergency preparedness and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for residents and visitors.

VBFD staff engaging with students

Virginia Beach Fire Department’s (VBFD) Safety Squad program delivers innovative educational lessons to more than 30,000 students in grades K-5 at all 56 elementary schools from September to May. 

Virginia Beach Emergency Management (VBEM) developed an emergency preparedness curriculum to teach students about disaster preparedness in the Safety Squad program. The curriculum includes information on building an emergency supply kit and identifying severe weather events—and since fall 2023 is being taught to fourth and fifth grade students across the city. 

The Safety Squad program helps VBEM progress on FY24-25 Focused Action Plan initiative to "Strengthen emergency management preparedness against natural disasters and threats being sure to engage in community outreach activities to educate residents on the importance of emergency preparedness.”  

Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Justin Churma said it’s not just the kids they are reaching when they teach the six-minute presentation. It sparks the discussion of emergency preparedness at home. After the presentation, parents receive a Safety Squad newsletter with basic information and a QR code that sends them to the ReadyVB Emergency Preparedness website. 

“We’re thankful to have been included in this program,” Churma said. “It is awesome to be able to reach the entire city with this demographic.” 

 Churma said the feedback so far has been positive. Students get a chance to engage the speaker with questions at the end of the presentation.  

“A lot of times they want to tell stories like ‘I was in Virginia Beach for this storm’ and then they talk to each other about it,” Churma said. “Sometimes they come up with new items that can be added to the [emergency] kit.” 

Emergency Management staff engaging with students

The Evolution of the Safety Squad

Jessica Xenakis, fire and life safety education coordinator, joined the VBFD in 2019. Leveraging her background as a former classroom teacher, she recognized the significance of creating a fire safety and prevention curriculum that integrates engaging learning experiences for elementary students at various levels. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures, Xenakis used the opportunity to develop the Safety Squad curriculum, which reflects the most up-to-date messaging from the world’s leading fire safety and prevention experts. The curriculum also adheres to Virginia’s Health and Physical Education Standards of Learning (SOL). 

During the program’s pilot phase, the emphasis was on fire safety and injury prevention, covering essential topics such as the importance of working smoke alarms, home fire escape planning, knowing the difference between emergency and non-emergency scenarios, and making safe and responsible choices. 

VBFD’s Safety Squad is in its second full year of interactive programming in partnership with Virginia Beach City Public Schools and supports the FY24-25 Focused Action Plan initiative to “continue public safety efforts to ensure a safe and healthy environment for residents and visitors.”  

“When I assumed responsibility for the life safety education office, I quickly realized that our team was stretched too thin,” Xenakis explained.  

“They were delivering multi-day instructional lessons in over 250 fourth grade classrooms and presenting over 80 assemblies annually. It drastically limited our capacity to address other community risk issues and restricted collaboration with other City agencies. It was time to update our messaging, introduce interactive experiences for students, and enhance the efficiency of our outreach initiatives.” 

Students participating in Safety Squad activities

As the program advanced, Xenakis recognized a chance to broaden the students’ learning opportunities by incorporating a multi-agency approach to safety, prevention, and preparedness.  

“Inviting Emergency Management, Emergency Communications and Citizen Services, and the Virginia Beach Police Department to join our program has been pivotal in our continued success,” Xenakis stated. “Working with other public agencies to help keep our residents safe is critical.” 

The collaboration has enabled a sharp focus on vital topics such as fire safety and prevention, distinguishing between emergency and non-emergency situations, traffic safety, gun safety, school threats, emphasizing the significance of emergency preparedness by creating an emergency supply kit, and addressing other relevant matters. 

Learning Resources

Learn more about VBFD Safety Squad Program at  

Find valuable resources, tips and information on how to prepare before, during and after an emergency at  

Read the FY24 Mid-Year Performance Report, which provides insight into the progress made toward the initiatives outlined in the FY24-25 Focused Action Plan. 

Contact Information

Virginia Beach Fire Administration

Contact Information

Emergency Management

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