Innovative Pop-Up Safety Town initiative promotes child safety across Michigan

Jamie Hector smiled as his 6-year-old daughter Coral chose a red bike helmet at the Pop-Up Safety Town event at a local school gymnasium. That helmet, which she promptly covered with cute cat stickers, could save her from a trip to the emergency room.

Coral also learned about pedestrian and medication safety along with dog bite prevention—part of the Pop-Up Safety Town Initiative created by University of Michigan pediatrician Andy Hashikawa in 2017.

The initiative, now part of the U-M Concussion Center, provides critical education on concussion prevention, pedestrian and medication safety and dog bite prevention to communities across the state.

The initiative travels the state and provides age-focused injury prevention resources to Michigan’s underserved and rural communities, including Hillsdale, Grand Rapids, Flint, Jackson, Ypsilanti, Detroit, Addison, Durand, Whitmore Lake, Hamtramck and some tribal communities.

It’s helped thousands of preschool and grade-school students in Michigan like Coral to avoid concussions and other injuries.

Injuries are the number one cause of death in children, and we know that almost 100% of them are preventable. Most common are head injuries and ingestion of adult medicines.”

Andy Hashikawa, clinical professor of pediatric emergency medicine

The project started with helmets and then added different stations that kids cycle through, including pedestrian safety, which is taught by walking through the brightly colored pop-up town, a dog bite avoidance station with large stuffed animals, medication safety including a pill bottle lock they can bring home, and visits from local police and fire departments.

In Eaton Rapids, local public safety officials brought a fire truck and a loaded police vehicle the kids could climb into.

“It morphed into an injury prevention fair that we bring to the community to really engage with students, families and teachers,” Hashikawa said. “It’s the first time they’re engaging with academic folks from the Concussion Center, from Michigan Medicine, from the schools of Public Health and Nursing.”

Tina Chen, managing director of the U-M Concussion Center, said the project was recently selected by the American Academy of Pediatrics “to help expand this program to other states beyond Michigan, demonstrating U-M’s leadership in creating a scalable impact not just within the state but nationwide.”
Next year, Pop-up Safety Town expands to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina as part of the AAP Community Access to Child Health grant program and AAA funding.

“We are passionate about showing pediatricians and injury prevention experts in other states on how to host U-M’s Pop-up Safety Town and extend our impact,” Hashikawa said. “Ultimately, we want to instill lasting safety habits in children at an early age and empower caregivers with the knowledge that can prevent injuries.”

Modeled on the traditional Safety Town, a one-week injury prevention summer camp sponsored by school districts that uses permanent buildings and is expensive to develop, the pop-up version makes it accessible to all.

Hashikawa took inspiration from pop-up stores and pop-up restaurants.

“We literally pop up these buildings made of PVC pipes and felt covers, and it becomes a town in less than 20 minutes,” he said.

The events are hosted at gyms of community centers, and Head Start children and their families are invited to attend free of charge.

Hashikawa said it was great to see groups of kids on their bikes wearing their new helmets after an event in Hamtramck.

“And this is something new because helmet safety isn’t really a part of the culture. But for the first time, teachers said, ‘Hey, these kids are wearing helmets. They think it’s cool that it’s fitted for them,'” Hashikawa said. “So it’s wonderful to see them using their new helmets and learning the ways to prevent injury.”

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