Emergency Preparedness for Children: How to Prepare Your Family for Disaster Scenarios
According to the National Household Survey, out of 5,000 polled, 47% had personal or familial experience with disasters. This statistic shows the importance of having a disaster plan for all types of disasters that may occur. Disasters can include weather events, personal injury or health crises, and break-ins, or other external threats. When creating your disaster plan, it’s important to involve all members of your household, including your children, so everyone knows what to do in an emergency event. Feeling prepared in an emergency event can help lower fear and anxiety, which can help lessen the impact, both physical and emotional, of disasters.
Know What Your Child Is Capable of Handling
How you educate a four-year-old on emergency preparedness is going to look different than how you educate a 12-year-old. Therefore, it’s important to tailor your discussions towards your child’s emotional maturity, and their ability to understand why what you’re saying is important.
Children Under Five
For children under five, you may want to start simply with emergency phone numbers, like 9-1-1 or a parent’s phone number. Mnemonic devices like songs can be helpful when trying to get younger children to memorize phone numbers or their home addresses.
Children Between Six and 12
For children between six and 12, you can start to incorporate a more active role in emergency preparedness. You can start to practice typical questions that emergency personnel may ask them or establish a safe meeting point, such as a grandparent’s house, in case they can’t return home.
For teens, you can engage them by giving them an active role or responsibility. For example, you can put them in charge of knowing where the flashlights or candles are in the event of a blackout. Even as your children get older, it’s still important to tailor their responsibilities to their emotional maturity. Over-burdening them can cause excess stress that can be life-threatening in an emergency. Talk with your child about what they feel comfortable taking on before establishing responsibilities.
Educate Them On How to Use 9-1-1 and Other Emergency Services
When educating your children about emergencies, stress the importance of knowing not only how, but when to dial 9-1-1. For example, a friend falling off a jungle gym and breaking a bone at a park wouldn’t be a 9-1-1 call right away. Instead, your child should find their chaperone, or drive to the nearest hospital if they are able. However, if your child’s friend has a deadly peanut allergy and ingests something made of peanuts, they should call 9-1-1 immediately, and then locate an EpiPen if there is one nearby.
The difference between these two situations is the level of danger. A broken bone isn’t typically a life-threatening situation, while anaphylactic shock can be. Discuss with your child how they can identify whether or not they are in a life-threatening situation, and whether they need to call 9-1-1.
Other emergency services and numbers important for your child to know can include:
- A parent or guardian’s phone number;
- Poison control;
- Animal control;
- Local fire and police departments;
- Their school;
You can print these numbers out and leave them in a community space, so the whole family can access them. You can also program these numbers into your child’s phone if they have one, for even easier access.
Make an Emergency Plan
Having an emergency plan and teaching emergency skills can reduce injuries, losses, and even prevent personal damage altogether. You should have a tailored emergency plan for each major type of emergency.
Build an Emergency Kit
You can find specific resources for different types of weather events and natural disasters on the FEMA website, however, each disaster kit should include:
- A gallon of clean water;
- A first aid kit;
- At least three days of non-perishable food;
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio;
- A whistle;
- A flashlight;
- Extra batteries;
- Face masks;
- Clean blankets;
- Garbage bags for personal waste;
- Manual can opener;
- Moist towelettes or baby wipes;
- Cell phone chargers or backup batteries.
If you live somewhere with heavy snow, like Alaska, you may want to have some version of this kit in your vehicle, in case you’re stranded in your car.
If you or your loved one has a medical condition, it’s important to discuss what to do with all family members in the event of an episode. You can also teach your children how to be ready for spontaneous health emergencies, such as if someone starts choking. This can be a good time to reinforce when and how to call 9-1-1, or other emergency services.
Skills that can help your children handle health emergencies before help arrives include:
- Chest compressions: Chest compressions can save a life in the event of someone’s heart-stopping. Chest compressions should be applied with firm pressure, at 100 bpm. Several songs run at 100 bpm that you can teach your children to do chest compressions to, such as “Dancing Queen” by ABBA.
- Tying a tourniquet: A tourniquet is a tight band tied above a major wound that can help stop bleeding. It can be created using any material that can be tied tightly around the limb, such as a belt, scarf, necktie, or piece of rope. This can be a life-saving temporary solution before medical professionals arrive.
- The recovery position: The recovery position is a way to assist people who have fallen unconscious. The basics of the recovery position include turning someone on their side so that their airways can remain free, and pillowing their head. The Epilepsy Society has published a full video on how to execute the recovery position.
Enrolling in a basic first aid course can teach you all of the above skills, as well as other important skills for a health emergency, such as the Heimlich maneuver and basic burn care.
External threats can include burglary, shooter threat, or hostile animals. Emergency plans for these types of threats may include:
- Having an evacuation route from the home;
- Setting an agreed-upon family meeting place somewhere outside the home;
- Teaching children how to notice signs of a break-in;
- Teaching children how to remove themselves from an aggressive animal.
Many schools will run safety drills that will teach children how to deal with some of these external threats. These drills can be carried over and applied at home.
Teach them About Natural Disasters
Natural disasters, such as fires, floods, blizzards, thunderstorms, and other major weather events are another important part of disaster preparation. The area in which you live will help determine what kind of weather events you need to be prepared for. Someone living in California will want to have an earthquake kit handy, while someone living in Oklahoma will want to be more prepared for tornadoes.
In some cases, emergency preparedness can help you reduce the amount of damage to your home and personal belongings. For example, if you live somewhere with earthquakes, you may want to bolt tall furniture like bookshelves to the wall or keep breakables in a chest, rather than on display. Other damage, like fire and smoke damage or flooding damage, may not be able to be avoided.
Teaching your children the different effects of different natural disasters can help them reduce their safety risks, and help them to prioritize saving themselves over saving objects.
Find Creative Ways to Educate Your Children About Emergencies
Finding fun and interactive ways to teach your children about emergency preparedness can help them retain information better. As mentioned before, mnemonic devices can be a great way to teach phone numbers or acronyms. Having their direct input in creating an emergency kit, such as letting them pick out the color of the flashlight, is another way that you can get your kids involved.
Keeping your approach to emergency preparedness light and engaging is important not only to increase retention but to decrease feelings of dread or anxiety around severe topics.
Watch Your Tone
It’s important to remain calm while doing any sort of disaster education. Sounding scared or stressed may deter children from wanting to learn valuable skills, or heighten their anxiety should an emergency occur. You can instill confidence in your child’s ability to handle a crisis by providing positive reinforcement and answering their questions honestly.
Emergency preparedness has been proven to prevent personal injury. The National Household Survey additionally found that engaging in one emergency preparedness action is associated with engaging in others. By starting to educate your children about emergency preparedness when they’re young, you can create habits that can carry over into adulthood.