• Protecting Children from Wildfire Hazards

    While every member of your household will no doubt be affected by a wildfire emergency, young children are at increased risk for injury and emotional stress during such a situation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Wildfires often start without warning and can spread quickly, leaving little time to prepare. As the household prepares to deal with the situation, young children can easily become scared and even injured.

    To prepare and protect young children during a wildfire, here are 8 tips to consider:


    1. Hold a Family Meeting



    Wildfires can occur anywhere but if you live in a particularly high-risk area, it is important to discuss this type of emergency situation with all members of your family. Explain what a wildfire is, what happens during such an emergency, and discuss ways everyone can help prevent wildfires from starting.

    Use age-appropriate language your young children can understand and be sure to let them ask questions.


    2. Make a Plan and Practice



    While small children may not be able to participate effectively in creating an emergency plan, they can be part of the practice drills your family holds to prepare for a wildfire emergency. Your household should have two plans in place: one for evacuations and one for sheltering in place.

    Practice evacuation drills with everyone to ensure they can get out of the house safely during different times of the day, including late at night when everyone is asleep. The more young children practice, the less afraid they may be during an actual emergency.


    3. Know the Emergency Plan for School

    If your child is in school or at a daycare, it is important to find out the school’s protocol during a wildfire emergency. This helps you have peace of mind you’ll know where your children are during an evacuation.

    It also allows you to talk about these plans directly with your children to reduce their fears when mom and dad aren’t around to help.


    4. Pack Child-Friendly Supplies

    In addition to having food and personal protective supplies for a wildfire emergency, families with young children should also stockpile kid-friendly activities to keep them busy when sheltering at home, or if an evacuation becomes necessary.

    Keep crayons, coloring books, and other non-electronic games in your emergency supplies. Have a blanket, stuffed animal, or other item that brings your child comfort during an evacuation.

    You also need to ensure you have a supply of formula, baby food, drinking cups, bottles, and other accessories infants and toddlers might need when away from home.


    5. Avoid Fumes and Wildfire Smoke

    Young children can succumb to the effects of wildfire smoke faster than adults. Keep kids inside and away from the smoke until you need to evacuate. Use respirators to protect their breathing whenever you leave home to evacuate the area.

    Never let children outside unattended when wildfire is in the area. Children who are prone to wandering can easily become lost and are at increased danger with a nearby wildfire.


    6. Stay Evacuated for As Long as Possible

    It’s natural to want to return to your home and see the damage. Never allow any member of your household to return to the scene until the authorities have cleared the area and authorized homeowners to return.

    If possible, make alternate childcare arrangements with friends or relatives before returning to your home. Remaining smoke and other toxins are particularly harmful to young, developing lungs.


    7. Keep a Close Watch



    After a fire, your home may be livable but outdoor dangers can be fatal to children. Burning embers can spark additional fires, even from miles away. If the wildfires are still burning in nearby locations, your property may still be at risk.

    There are also dangers from fallen trees, downed power lines, and chemical residue from fire-fighting agents. Keep kids under constant supervision and inside the house as much as possible when you return home.


    8. Seek Medical Attention Immediately

    If your child is injured during wildfire preparations or after the fire has passed the area, it is important to keep the injury clean and covered at all times. Check the injury frequently for signs of swelling or redness. If you notice changes or if your child develops a fever, waste no time in seeking medical attention.

    If your child is exposed to wildfire smoke during evacuation or while sheltering in place, seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible to ensure a clean bill of health.

  • Getting Children Involved in Emergency Preparedness

    My 14-year-old son was reading his checklist for a hiking trip when he ran across some instructions for preventing tick bites.

    “That’ll be great for when we move,” I chirped up. Our family is about to move from Utah to Virginia, and I explained to him that Virginia has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country. spread Lyme disease.

    My goal was to help him see that even in little ways he was prepared to move. He didn’t take it that way.

    “Why are we moving, again?” he grumbled.

    Involving Children in Emergency Preparedness

    I’ve realized that moving has a lot in common with a major earthquake. Both make your home hazardous to walk through. (I had no idea we’d accumulated SO MUCH JUNK till I started packing.)Both require you to leave your home and leave things behind. You might have to start fresh, away from relatives and friends, schools, and services.

    Just as you can prepare children for major life events like moving, you can prepare them to cope with natural and man-made disasters.

    Talk about what will happen and practice it.

    Involving Children in Emergency Preparedness

    We’ve hired a moving company to transport our things and plan to make the cross-country trip into a family vacation. We’ll camp out at least some nights. All summer, I’ve periodically set up the tents in our backyard and let the children sleep outside. The first night every child was back in the house by 2 a.m. I imagined what would have happened if my younger kids tried camping for the first time during the move.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking children around the area of your new home, if possible, in an article about preparing children for moving.

    “She will probably discover that the new city is really not that different from the one she is leaving,” the article said.

    The same principle applies in disaster preparedness. Practice for disasters. Have emergency food days when your family eats from your emergency kits, to help children become accustomed to it.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics article also recommends giving children choices in moving, like what their room will look like. Have children give input into what to put in emergency kits. Our emergency kit supply list called for packets of oatmeal. But my kids can’t stand oatmeal. So we took a vote and put in cold cereal instead.

    When you practice fire drills, have children figure out two ways to get out of every room and encourage them to make maps.

    Emphasize the positive and be calm yourself.

    My daughter informed me today that “everything about moving seems to be bad.”

    During our conversation she brought up that she would like to go swimming more. So we went online and found that our new town has an indoor swimming pool. So she left feeling a little better because she might be able to swim in the winter.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends emphasizing the positive aspects of moving, while acknowledging children’s concerns are valid. The same idea applies to emergency preparedness.

    “When you can manage your own feelings, you can make disasters less traumatic for your kids,” according to an article, “Helping Children Cope,” in

    In part to help keep costs down and in part to improve our disaster preparedness, I’m planning to use our family’s emergency kits as our primary source of food and shelter. (Not clothes, though. I don’t want to do laundry every day.) After we’ve moved, I’ll write about how this emergency preparedness experiment went.


    Melissa Rivera is a jack-of-all-trades who is master of none. She has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Involving Children

  • 6 Ways to Involve Children in Emergency Preparedness

    by Beth Buck


    Recently my 8-year-old son came in from playing in a state of general upset. His friends had been teasing him, as elementary-schoolers are wont to do, about the possibility of everyone he knew getting squished by an earthquake. Specifically, his two friends exaggerated the likelihood of an earthquake in our town and the scope of possible damage and told him one would happen the next day.

    Involve Children

    It's a good thing I'm his mom. I've been immersing myself in this stuff for years! We had a casual conversation in our kitchen about how he already knows what to do during an earthquake, and all the contingencies. (“What if you're outside? In bed asleep? Here in the kitchen?”) His friends made a big deal out of the possibility of all the buildings falling down like in the 2011 earthquake in Haiti. I explained to my son about building codes, and how the people who had designed and built our house had followed them, whereas Haiti is notorious for considering building codes to be optional. When my son had heard all he felt like he wanted to hear (I could have gone on for at least another twenty minutes), he shrugged and returned to playing outside, no longer worried.

    We've had many conversations like this at my house over the years, starting from when my children were very young. My family has yet to live through any kind of major emergency. My kids are still fairly young, but on the whole I think I've gotten pretty good at involving them in our plans. Here are some helpful tips.


    1) Explain what you're doing in an age appropriate way.  Talking to your child about natural disasters and the need to prepare for them is a lot like talking to your child about death or the nitty-gritty details of human reproduction. It's sometimes difficult to know how much is not enough and what is too much. While it's not necessary to tell a three-year-old all the scary details of what any given emergency may entail, you should still give them an accurate picture. What this looks like will vary from child to child and from family to family. As an example, we live in an area where a toxic chemical spill is within the realm of possibility. We've explained and practiced our evacuation plan, have used the words “chemical spill” in our discussion, but determined that our four-year-old does not need to know what toxic chemicals do to the human body.


    2) Make your kids help you maintain their own 72-hour kits. Each child should be able to carry his or her own kit, and should know where to find what items and in which pocket. When the time comes to rotate items, have your child help you choose his or her own supplies. This will engender a feeling of ownership.


    3) Practice, Practice. Evacuation drills make a good family activity. Some states have state-wide preparedness drills such as the Great Utah Shakeout. Participation in these drills is a lot of fun in addition to being educational. In my home, we had races to see who could run to hide under the kitchen table the fastest.


    Swedish Meatballs Involve children4) Cook with your food storage. Food from your long-term storage isn't meant to be kept in your basement until it is no longer acceptable as food. I make fresh tortillas from the dent corn in our food storage and my kids think it's the best ever.


    5) Go camping. This lets kids get away from modern amenities and learn how to function without them. Camping is also a great way to practice using the gadgets in your 72-hour kits (see #3).


    6) Learn together. Number 1-5 assumes that you, the parent, already have a lot of emergency preparedness training and knowledge under your belt, but if you are part of the majority of Americans, this may not be the case. That is OK – you have to start somewhere, after all, right? If you are not already up-to-date with your 72-hour kits, do so. Familiarize yourself with what to do during any given emergency. Create an evacuation plan. Get all the information you need, and then pass that knowledge on to your kids. If you know what to do, they will know what to do.


    Beth Buck Headshot

    Beth Buck has been involved with emergency preparedness since her very earliest years. She enjoys hiking, martial arts, reading, and writing about food storage. Beth lives in the Intermountain West with her family.



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