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Squirrel mascot reminds Johnston to be prepared

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SMITHFIELD — If you’re at a Johnston County event and encounter a giant squirrel, there’s no need to panic. It’s probably MEARLE, the JoCo Preparedness Squirrel.

MEARLE stands for Making Everyone Alert and Ready to Learn Emergency Preparedness. The mascot was the creation of Johnston County Emergency Services.

“We wanted a way to reach out to people,” said Sandy Wood, emergency management coordinator. “The state mammal is the gray squirrel. We tell kids, ‘If you see a gray squirrel, remember MEARLE told you to buckle up in the car and wear your helmet when riding your bike.’ We tried to be a little inventive in sharing preparedness information — we wanted a little fun in the presentation.”

MEARLE has appeared at local schools, day care centers, parades, the senior center and even the Johnston County Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 5. Chairman Ted Godwin and the other commissioners seemed to enjoy meeting the new mascot.

Johnston County Emergency Services has also produced a MEARLE coloring book.

“When we did the coloring book, it supports the preparedness message and also talks about 911 communications and the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office,” said Wood. “I’ve been to events where we put out the coloring books and the children color with MEARLE and pose for photos.”

A former emergency management assistant, Aaron Penny, worked with all the divisions to get the message out and pulled the information together for the coloring book.

MEARLE sports an emergency service vest, which represents the department’s three divisions: Emergency preparedness, EMS and the fire division.

When asked who gets to sport MEARLE’s costume, Wood said that was top-secret like the old “Secret Squirrel” cartoon show.

“Everybody is so excited,” Wood said. “We have a certain image and that’s very important.”

MEARLE will soon be seen in an emergency preparedness video.

“It’s great we’ve seen it come to fruition,” said Wood “We’ve been looking for the right representation and I believe we’ve found it. It’s neat to see children’s response to MEARLE and it’s been fun with adults, too.”