A brutal snowstorm strikes at mid-day. Roads grow increasingly congested as commuters across the city scramble to get home before conditions worsen. Ice begins to jam roads, and resulting accidents turn interstates into parking lots and neighborhood roads into skating rinks. Some parents grow increasingly desperate to reach their children as roads become impassable, leaving students stranded on buses and at school. Other parents pick up their children only to become stuck in their cars.
Once safely reunited, families remain stuck indoors for days. Childhood excitement at the sight of snow quickly turns to cabin fever. Parents’ relief to have the family reunited turns to hope for the power to remain on and schools to reopen soon.
This scenario became reality for cities across the southeastern U.S. in January 2014, highlighting the importance of preparedness, especially for families. Natural disasters affect about 66 million children each year. Keeping children safe in emergency situations starts in the home, whatever the emergency may be.
Get a Kit
“If you could take one thing with you on a desert island, what would it be?” This popular children’s question game is not too far off the mark for putting together an emergency kit for your family. Maintaining a routine in an emergency will help your children cope.
Putting together a good kit is the first step in helping you do that. Let your children pick things that make them feel secure, such as a favorite book or food. Your children will enjoy helping create a kit of all the things they are sure they could not live without in case of an emergency. Be sure to include your children in the process. Make it a game, and they will find it fun!
Some basic items to include in your kit include:
You should also know your child’s medications and keep a small supply in case of emergency. Consider a small identification card with information on key medications and emergency contacts for your child to keep at all times.
Think of your family’s specific needs. For example, if you have an infant, keep any special foods or extra diapers on hand.
Keep a similar kit in each car, along with a blanket, nonperishable food, and a charger for your phone or other essential electronics.
Make a Plan
Knowing what to do in an emergency is just as important as having a kit. Most important is ensuring you have a way to reunite your family if they are separated at the time of the emergency. Children do better in these situations when they are with their families. As a start, teach your children important names, phone numbers and addresses. Most children can memorize a phone number by age four or five. Make it a game—it could help keep your children safe.
Protecting your family will involve others, as well. Pick a family member out of town to be a common contact for everyone to call or text. Sometimes local telephone networks can be jammed. If someone else cares for your children during part of the day, always make sure they know what to do and who to contact in an emergency, too. Lastly, make sure you have a plan for what to do with your pets. They are part of the family, too!
Being informed of your family’s situation when everyone is separated during the day is important. Know the emergency plan in your children’s schools and keep your emergency contact information up to date. Delegate a close family friend as an alternate contact who could pick your children up if you or your spouse is not able to do so. Consider using a word that only you and your children know, and make sure your children know only to leave with someone who can tell them what the code word is. This word can be anything, like a favorite book character, and can serve as the “password” or the “code word.”
In an emergency, talk to your children about what is happening. Be honest and explain the situation; it’s better to learn about it from you than from the media, since information from the media may not be age-appropriate. Set an example with your own actions by maintaining a sense of calm, even when you are distressed. This will help your family cope in any emergency.
Events and information can change quickly in an emergency. Pay attention to local leaders, like your town’s mayor or police department, so you can make the best, most informed decisions for you and your family.
Real Stories of Emergency Preparedness
CDC’s Caring for Children in a Disaster Site
Ready Wrigley – Preparedness Activities for Kids
Disaster Preparedness for Your Pet
FEMA’s Ready Kids