- Natural disaster preparedness for kids
- Emergency preparedness for kids with special needs
- How to support kids in the aftermath of a natural disaster
It has been quite a year, right? Of all things, I bet you never expected to be navigating a pandemic when you were scanning the horizon for potential disasters you’d need to keep your family prepared for. While your first instinct might be to just throw up your hands and say, “What’s the point? I can’t control everything, apparently,” you need to calm down, breath, and refocus…and then resume panicking about regular horrifying things that might happen to you and your loved ones.
Fires, earthquakes, floods, tornados, meteors, wild packs of coyotes—there are so many potential disasters lurking out there, waiting to strike at any moment of any day. Is it scary? Hell yes! It’s downright terrifying. How can we possibly go through our daily lives without constantly worrying about a natural disaster blindsiding us?
Throw a kid or two into the mix, and the anxiety level jumps by, say, 160%. As humans in charge of tinier humans, what can we do to calm ourselves other than buy a Pope Mobile so we can drive the family to the grocery store in relative safety? I’ll tell you what you can do — you can have what I like to call an “OH SNAP” plan.
This is the term our family uses, but you can call it an OH S**T plan if profanities are part of your coping mechanism. Whatever you decide to dub your emergency preparedness plan, just make sure you have one. Don’t be caught with your collective pants around your ankles. Look at the world in your immediate vicinity, decide what natural disasters could be imminent, and devise a plan for each one. If you live at the base of a volcano, for example, don’t fret about subzero temperatures (which, by the way, took millions of Texans hostage recently). Perhaps focus on lava avoidance techniques or rock dodging drills and then come up with a plan.
Once you have a good general plan based on your local danger levels, the next important step is to talk to your kids about it. Emergency preparedness for children is crucial. You should probably tell your spouse, too. OK, fine, maybe include your significant other in the planning phase to make sure you’re not forgetting some essential aspect of your family’s safety.
For instance, my wife pointed out that the meet-up point in my emergency plan was underneath a giant oak tree next to some electrical wires. That was very helpful. You want things to make sense so you can get everyone on board with the family emergency preparedness plan and ensure they know what to do in any situation.
Any semi-rational human being can imagine a lot of disastrous situations off the top of their head. My already fragile and skittish mind was flooded with even more terrifying scenarios from the moment I learned I would be a parent. Before my kid was the size of a pea, I could already imagine him being kidnapped or, on the flip side, somehow murdering me in my sleep.
I decided at some point that these fears, while arguably somewhat valid, might not be the best areas to focus my attention on. Once my thoughts switched to the number of earthquakes we might experience in a year here in Southern California, I realized that my fear-response levels were high for a reason. I just needed to shift my focus.
How do you get your kids’ emergency preparedness levels up to scratch without putting the fear of God in them and turning them into shivering, sweaty bundles who await the apocalypse crouched under their beds? For starters, you could make it fun. There are lots of emergency preparedness games that trick children into learning about safety. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, focus on yourself. Remember: the more prepared you are, the more prepared they will be.
First and foremost, get your kit in order. There are earthquake kits, hurricane kits, maybe even alien invasion kits. Whatever you call them, they are basically full of the same things: everyday items your family needs to survive for 2 or 3 days without electricity or running water. Blankets, food, and flashlights are staples in these kits. The American Red Cross also has an exhaustive list of what should go in a kit if you want to make one yourself.
Also, don’t forget to ask your kids what they might need. This is important. It could be a favorite toy, a game, or a prized stuffed animal. Make sure they have the option to grab things that would give them comfort or keep them occupied. However, even with the best-laid plans, there might not be time to find a certain toy while you’re all evacuating to escape a raging wildfire. So, plan ahead and maybe buy some extra travel games or other fun things for the emergency kit. In this way, the kids can keep busy while they wait for the cavalry or the electricity to come back on.
There are also companies that sell premade disaster kits for purchase, and many of them include the option to swap your kit for a new one every few years to keep up with the expiration dates of some items. We love the Safe from Judy. It provides you with the essentials of water, food, safety, warmth and first aid.
You can also get special disaster kits for kids—in addition to the general survival products you would expect, these have activities and toys to keep your kids occupied during stressful times.
Your internet connection will most likely disappear when a disaster strikes, so make sure you find and print out any info you might need. It could be the address of the closest emergency shelter, instructions on how to turn off the gas line to your house, or information on how many granola bars you can eat without getting gastrointestinal distress. Yes, your smartphone might still be useful, but given the inability to charge it and the likelihood of your local cell tower getting damaged, you’ll want to rely on your preparation, not on digital assistance.
The questions to consider are what, where, when, and how. You can worry about the why when everyone is safe.
- What is happening? Is it a tornado? If so, run to the basement. Is it an earthquake? Get under a table or some similar cover and hold on. Is it a fire? Know the route out of the house from every room. No matter what it is, have a plan for each disaster that could possibly hit where you live.
- Where do we meet up? Have a designated area away from the danger zone where you and your family can meet up and do a headcount and bodily harm assessment. This is important not only for things that happen in your home but in other places as well. If your child has an emergency at school and has to flee, having a place where they know you’ll be waiting for them is crucial.
- When do we meet? If you are separated from your family, it’s sometimes safer to stay where you are than run to the meeting place. Make sure you and your family know how to assess when to stay, when to run, and when the threat has receded enough for them to safely leave their hiding place.
- How do we get there safely? Similar to the above, make sure everyone knows how to get out of the danger zone and head to the meeting place when the time comes. It really is different for each kind of disaster, so read up and get everyone on the same page.
Once you have the plan, talk about it—a lot! Be annoying. Run the drills once a month. Get your family so used to your disaster preparedness that they can react in an instant. Remember, though—make it fun. Mix things up. Shout “earthquake,” and while they are protecting themselves, yell “fire.” Then, just as they are about to climb out of a window, scream “tornado” and have them retreat inside. In short, mess with them. Then give away prizes for Best Disaster Drill Doer or hand out a Lone Survivor Award. That’s what I like to do, anyway. It keeps things exciting.
Disasters suck. What sucks even more is having to worry about children in times of disaster. What sucks most of all is not being prepared. Disaster preparedness for kids isn’t something to take lightly and put off until tomorrow, next week, or whenever. It’s a necessity, and you should start planning with them today.
An emergency can strike at any moment. What’s better: patting yourself on the back for being a prepared parent or kicking yourself in the butt for spending the day designated for research and emergency plan preparation on your Netflix show? I think you know the answer.