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On the Road in Phoenix, Arizona

By: Victoria Harp

Every September, National Preparedness Month is observed in the United States as a way to encourage people to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, schools, and communities. Most, if not all, State Emergency Management Agencies will spend the month trying to educate their communities on preparedness by attending fairs, festivals and hosting their own special events.

In 2010, the Arizona Division of Emergency Management launched the Emergency Kit Cook-off; blending pop-culture, social media savvy, and preparedness into a force multiplier to disseminate information during National Preparedness Month. The Emergency Kit Cook-off is more than a cooking competition. It is a tool to get the masses thinking about preparedness in a fun and easy way. Even those who do not cook will find ideas of how to feed themselves and their families in an emergency.

1/10/2013 – Ethan Riley and Judy Kioski, the leaders behind the Emergency Kit Cook-off campaign, pose outside of their offices.

1/10/2013 – Ethan Riley and Judy Kioski, the leaders behind the Emergency Kit Cook-off campaign, pose outside of their offices.

On January 10, 2013, my colleague, Cori Wigington, and I arrived in Phoenix to sit down with the developers of the Emergency Kit Cook-off and their partners. The purpose of our trip was to dive deep into the how, why and what that makes the Emergency Kit Cook-off so successful. We were excited to meet self-proclaimed foodies, Ethan Riley and Judy Kioski, staffers at the Arizona Division of Emergency Management’s Public Information Office. Both have been working to build the Emergency Kit Cook-off into a nationally recognized initiative.

Ethan Riley said the idea to create an event around preparedness was inspired by watching and discussing cooking shows and striving to eat good food. In an emergency, creativity may wane when staring down at a can of tuna. A true foodie may be inspired to think about how to prepare that can of tuna in a fabulous way using all kinds of delicious ingredients. Non-foodies benefit because these ideas are available to the public via the Emergency Kit Cook-off website. People are encouraged to search for recipes to add to their emergency preparedness kits along with the non-perishable food items before a disaster strikes. Remember, in a disaster, you have to rely on the ingredients you have at hand and put them together possibly without electricity. The Emergency Kit Cook-off gets you to think ahead, prepare for and practice what to do in advance.

The challenge is simple. The public votes for non-perishable ingredients to use in the cook-off, and once chosen, those interested try their hand at developing and submitting a recipe using those ingredients. The challenge takes place in September during National Preparedness month and the voting is social media based. This past year, votes for ingredients came in from as far away as New Zealand! So far, Riley and Kioski have seen some pretty impressive recipes from the general public, but they are still waiting for the likes of Bobby Flay and Alton Brown to step up to the plate. Their website has become the clearinghouse for cooking and preparing food in an emergency. Have you posted your ideas yet?

Le Cordon Blue Culinary Joins the Challenge

CDC’s Cori Wigington briefly considers a career in the culinary arts with Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins.

CDC’s Cori Wigington briefly considers a career in the culinary arts with Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins.

To ramp up the degree of deliciousness, Riley teamed up with Le Cordon Blue Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is a very unique partnership for emergency management to team up with a culinary school. Riley was pleasantly surprised when Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins rose to the challenge and inspired others at the school to do the same. Chef Hutchins then prepared his Emergency Kit Cook-off masterpiece on live TV in Phoenix.

While visiting Phoenix, our team was able to sit down with the chefs from Le Cordon Blue Culinary Institute. We wanted to know why a culinary institute was interested in community preparedness. Chef Hutchins recounted his own brush with disasters and his sensitivity to being prepared. In the wake of mega-disasters like Hurricane Sandy, summertime wildfires, and “snowmageddons,” Chef Hutchins explained that the need to prepare, to him, is hard to ignore. It was clear as he spoke to us that in addition to a passion for food, he carries a passion for his community’s resilience. The Emergency Kit Cook-off is a perfect opportunity for Chef Hutchins to blend his passion for cooking with his passion for community preparedness.

Cooking Up Something for September (National Preparedness Month)

Cooking Up Something for September (National Preparedness Month)

Do you think you could make a can of tuna into something delectable in an emergency? Prove it before disaster strikes. The Emergency Kit Cook-off wants you! Go to to submit your recipe or to get ideas!

Victoria Harp has been supporting the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Learning Office as a Contractor for Lockheed Martin since 2009. She has been a Project Coordinator for the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness Initiative and is currently supporting the Learning Office working with the CDC Foundation and FEMA for the Whole Community Program.