Disasters can cause panic, fear, and greatly traumatize those involved. Preparation for these conditions ahead of time can minimize the stress of the event, and promote safety for you and your children.
Whether a disaster occurs in your home (such as a fire or medical emergency) or happens on a larger scale ( earthquake, tornado, flood) it is wise to prepare in advance. Children should not only have their physical needs met with an emergency kit, but should also be emotionally and mentally prepared and instructed ahead of time should a disaster happen in your home or area.
Fires can occur inside the home from many sources including faulty wiring, the forgotten pan on the stove, and even children playing with matches. Flames often fascinate children and many are too young to know the danger associated with playing with fire. Teach your children about fire safety, about not playing with matches, and hold regular family fire drills to be prepared, should a fire occur for any reason.
Practice your evacuation plan on a regular basis. Involve all members of your family to learn how to escape in the event of a disaster. Teach your children how to escape out of windows should doors not be accessible. When you practice, assign certain family members to be in charge of grabbing the emergency kits. Another family member could practice turning off utilities, such as gas valves and water valves (do not actually turn off utilities, as you may have to pay someone to come out and turn them back on). Other suggestions include arranging the furniture, such as a dresser, beneath a window to make it easier to escape, and leaving a pair of shoes and a flashlight near the bed. Experts advise rehearsing your plan up to four times per year and adjusting the plan according to the ages of family members.
Store your emergency kits near the exits of your home and keep a current emergency kit in your car. You never know where you will be when disaster strikes. One gallon of water per person per day is the minimum amount of water to store. It is recommended to have a two-week supply of water in case of an emergency. Distilled water seems to store the best. However, if you buy pre-bottled water (in the plastic gallon jugs), you must rotate them frequently. After three months, the seams can break down and they can leak. Other water containers such as 55-gallon drums are great for storing a large amount of water for a family. It is recommended to have both stationary and portable water systems. The 55-gallon drum could be your stationary water and water bags and liters of water could be your portable water system. Don’t forget a water filter or water purifier. These portable water systems can filter anywhere from 200 gallons to 60,000 gallons.
Young children can be taught to dial 9-1-1. Pictures and symbols can be used to identify certain emergency assistance numbers if the child is too young to read. For instance, the phone number for the fire department could be listed beneath a picture of a flame. Important emergency contact numbers to have posted include: fire station, police station, family doctor, poison control, animal control, American Red Cross, school numbers, work numbers, local friends or relatives, and out-of-state friends or relatives.
Help your child memorize important family information such as their address and phone number. If they are too young to memorize information they could carry a small index card that contains emergency information to give to an adult. Because abductions are increasingly common, do not put your child's name on the outside of their clothing. This prevents a stranger from establishing trust and familiarity by calling them by name. If someone is supposed to pick them up from school while you are away, give your child a "secret password" so that if someone does come for them, they will have to give them the word first. Of course, don't forget to inform all friends or family authorized to pick up your child in case of an emergency the same password! Should a disaster occur while your child is at school, it is possible you will not be able to come and pick them up. Have on file with the school the name and phone numbers of your family's out-of-state contact, should they have to call and let you know where they have taken the child.
Hold regular family councils where your family can get together and discuss safety and preparedness. Communication is an important key to preparedness. We hope this information has provided some useful tips on how to prepare children for emergencies.
In their informative brochure "Helping Children Cope with Disaster," the American Red Cross suggests:
- Learn what hazards exist in your community and how to prepare for each. Then meet with your family to discuss what you would do, as a group, in each situation.
- Take steps to prepare your family for disaster such as: posting emergency phone numbers, selecting an out-of-state family contact, assembling emergency kits for each member of your household, and installing smoke detectors on each level of your home.
- Practice your family evacuation plan so that everyone will remember what to do when a disaster does occur.
In addition, it is helpful to plan a common meeting place, such as a certain church or school building, should a disaster occur while members of your family are at school and work.
For more information on child safety, please read our Insight Articles entitled: " Evacuation Plan", and " Emergency Preparedness at Work and School." For additional facts on how to prepare for and respond to a disaster, contact your local or state office of emergency management and your local Red Cross chapter. You could also write to FEMA, P.O. Box 70274, Washington, D.C. 20024 or visit their web site at www.fema.gov.