Vol. 12 No. 1 - August, 2009

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Taking it to the streets

Injury Free Coalition for Kids launches ‘Mobile Safety Street’

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A stand-up model of a stray dog barks and prompts discussion about the dangers of approaching unfamiliar animals.

To Michael P. Hirsh, MD, and Mariann M. Manno, MD, pediatric trauma and injury are a public health epidemic, claiming 25,000 young lives each year—more than cancer, infectious diseases and birth defects combined. As co-directors of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids—Worcester, Drs. Hirsh and Manno are approaching childhood injury the same way we tackle other epidemics: through prevention and vaccination. "In this case, the vaccine is safety education, presented in an age-appropriate and stimulating dose,” said Hirsh, professor of surgery and pediatrics and chief of pediatric surgery at UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center. “And Mobile Safety Street is the vehicle for delivering that vaccine.”

Mobile Safety Street is a custom-designed, 40-foot-long fold-out streetscape connected to a small trailer that contains a home-like environment showcasing potential dangers such as a hot stove and an open medicine cabinet for children to identify and learn from. Transported by a mini school bus—which in itself provides countless safety lessons—Mobile Safety Street has visited schools and community groups around the region to present a safety awareness program that highlights the real-life hazards kids face every day.

“The hazards we recreated in Mobile Safety Street come directly from our experiences with patients in the emergency department,” said Manno, clinical associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine and director of pediatric emergency medicine for UMass Memorial. “We see the same injuries over and over again. Through Mobile Safety Street we hope to measurably reduce the number of injuries in our communities.”

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Mobile Safety Street is a custom-designed streetscape that contains a home-like environment showcasing potential dangers for children to identify and learn from.

Eight years in the making, Mobile Safety Street includes 80 safety behaviors and everyday dangers, and each one is tied to an important teaching point. For example, a stand-up model of a stray dog barks and prompts discussion about the dangers of approaching unfamiliar animals; an image of a car backing out of a garage—with its white backup lights on—helps children identify a possible street danger; and a hairdryer is plugged in dangerously close to a bathtub painted to appear full of water.

One purpose of Mobile Safety Street’s programs is to produce research data regarding retention of information acquired in this type of setting, said Allison Rook Burr, EdM, Injury Prevention Educator, who has been working with Worcester Public Schools and other organizations. “We want students to learn about and explore safety behaviors in a realistic, hands-on setting. Our goal is to show that an interactive approach to safety education will increase knowledge retention rates, thus reducing unintentional injuries.” Rook plans to present the Mobile Safety Street program to half of the city’s schools by the fall and the other half by next spring. She will compare the retention of information among the groups that have experienced the hands-on Mobile Safety Street program to that of groups that have been taught about safety in a typical classroom setting. Rook is currently working with two first-year medical students who help present the program to kids and assist with safety-related research.

The $250,000 it cost to create and run Mobile Safety Street for the first year came from the generous donations of a number of sources, including Ford Motor Company, WalMart, Worcester Department of Public Health, Hoche-Scofield Foundation and the Kiwanis Club of Worcester. In addition, the Annual Injury Free Golf Classic generated more than $25,000, and the UMass Memorial Department of Surgery provided $50,000 as well. Turtle Transit, a Lancaster-based fabricator of customized vehicles that helped design and create the interior and exterior of the trailer and bus, also gave generously of time and talent to put the project on wheels.

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