Being prepared at home with a disaster plan—such as flood, fire, or national emergency—can help keep you and your family safe. Despite devastating events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, less than 40% of American households have disaster plans. Unfortunately, about one third of states do not require disaster plans for schools. Thinking that “it can’t happen here,” is itself, a plan for disaster. Good planning and disaster education for all family members not only gives your family the best chance during a disaster, but also it can make recovery from a disaster faster and less traumatic.
Getting Prepared at Home
Keep your house as safe and up-to-date as possible. You can do this by making sure that smoke detectors are working and have fresh batteries. Make sure fire extinguishers are up to code and kept in working order. If you live in a multi-story residence, you should have a plan for evacuation. Apartment buildings are generally required to have fire escapes, and a multi-story home should have a fire escape ladder available in an easy-to-reach spot on each level above the first floor. It’s best to keep flashlights with extra batteries handy, too.
Additionally, there are preparedness activities that you can do with your children so that they will be ready in case man-made or natural emergencies strike. You can:
Make an emergency kit: Gathering supplies that you may need during an emergency can be turned into a fun activity for you and your child. An emergency supply kit should contain:
A hand-cranked or battery-powered flashlight
A hand-cranked or battery-powered radio
First aid kit
Multipurpose tool (that has a knife, screwdriver, pliers)
Water and food, at least a 3-day supply. Have at least one gallon of water per person, per day for drinking and sanitation. Food should be non-perishable, such as canned items, dry pasta, powdered milk
Manual can opener
Basic utensils to prepare and eat meals
7-day supply of all medicines (check for expired medications regularly)
List of family and emergency contact information
Personal hygiene items, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, feminine care
Comfort items, such as a family photo, teddy bear, games for children
Create an evacuation plan: Plan what to do and where to go during an emergency. Identify at least two meeting places for your family members, such as a friend’s home or public place where you can report where you are and how you are doing. Make sure everyone knows the possible routes they can use to get to the designated meeting place. Find out if there are specific buildings reserved in your town as evacuation shelters to use as a back-up meeting place.
Practice routes and plans: Similar to fire drills at school or work, practicing evacuation processes and routes at home will help you and your children become familiar with your chosen safety plan. Create a card that contains your emergency plan as a reminder.
Create I.C.E. contact cards: I.C.E. stands for “in case of emergency.” All members of your family should know who to contact in case of emergency. The information should be written down and easily accessible, such as on a card in your wallet, saved in a cell phone contact list, or stashed in your child’s book bag. It is a good idea to designate an emergency contact person who lives out of town. This ensures that if your family gets separated in an emergency, everyone in the family can call or text that designated person to report being safe.
Prepare Your Children
Become familiar with your children’s school or daycare emergency and evacuation procedures. It will be important for your child to know where to go for safe evacuation in the case of a disaster. Review the school plan with your entire family. Remind your child that there is a safety plan in place and that he or she should be ready to use it if ever necessary.
Teach your children as much as you can about safety and preparedness for all types of disasters. There is evidence that a more interactive approach to learning about emergency preparedness is more effective in helping children to understand. There are many online resources including games, checklists, and videos that you and your child can find for additional learnings about overall safety.
Children should be taught when to call 911 and what type of information they should give to emergency operators. Along with knowing their own full names, younger children need to know their parents’ names, address, and phone number(s). Teaching your child important names can help first responders identify and reunite you with your child.
Give your children time to understand the procedures and to repeat the plans back to you. Allow them to express their concerns—even their fears—and encourage them to ask questions.
During an emergency, children rely on adults for help and guidance. Remember to stay calm during an emergency because children tend to mirror how their parents react. Preparing yourself and your family for emergency events is the key to keeping everyone you love safe and in touch.
When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable. Do your kids have an emergency plan at school? On The Doctors, Pfizer Chief Medical Officer Freda Lewis-Hall, M.D., and Save the Children detail how kids can be prepared for times of trouble.