Children and Emergencies: Preparing Your Family
by Norris L. Beren, author of When Disaster Strikes Home!
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As upsetting as an emergency or disaster may be for adults, it is likely to be more so for children. Emergencies will cause anxiety, stress and fear ‑- especially if adults react in panic or hysteria. Children look to adults for guidance, strength, support and comfort. They will model their behavior after adults' behavior, so it is crucial to stay calm around children.
What children fear:
* The disaster or event will happen again.
* Someone will be killed or injured.
* They will be left alone.
* They will lose contact with their family.
It's important for children to help clean up, fix up and do whatever it takes to return life to normal. Tell children that a disaster is something that could hurt people, cause damage and cut off water, electricity or phone service. Explain that adults prepare for disasters, and children can help get ready.
Use examples of several disasters that could happen: fire, tornado, wind, ice or snowstorm, chemical spill, train wreck, airplane crash, etc. Explain that there are solutions or ways of handling each one.
What children need to know:
Phone numbers and other important family information: Children should know their last name, home address, phone number and family meeting place. Use an index card and have them keep it with them. Make the assignment fun ‑- promise a treat when they can recite this information. Show how to call their "family contact" in case they are separated from their family in an emergency. Practice this call once a month.
How and when to call for help: Even young children can be shown ‑- through pictures ‑- when and how to dial 9-1-1. Teach them how to make long distance calls in an emergency.
The role of strangers: Explain that in an emergency many people ‑- even strangers ‑- can help them. Help kids understand the difference between strangers in a disaster situation and those in everyday life.
What to do: Children need to be given duties and instructions in an evacuation plan and fire drill in an emergency at home. Also, teach children that matches and lighters are tools used by grown-ups and are not toys.
What to do about school:
It's important for parents to know the preparedness plans of the day care or school facilities where their children might be in the event of a disaster or emergency during the day. Parents who are at work, traveling or otherwise not at home, and have to pick up their children suddenly need to be able to decide which child is picked up first, second, third, etc.
At the same time parents who are unable to pick up their children during these circumstances have to know what arrangements and security measures will be implemented in their absence. This knowledge will help reduce the stress, anxiety and panic that normally will occur. Use the following questions as a guide to informally audit each of the facilities where children are during the day or other times as appropriate.
* Does each school/day care facility have plans and specific procedures to deal with various types of emergencies and disasters including school violence and natural disasters?
* Does the school have a training plan for all teachers, administrative aides, administrators and substitute teachers so they will know their responsibilities during an emergency?
• Does the school have transportation plans in the event of an evacuation and plans for notification of parents?
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2004 by Emergency Preparedness Educational Institute(sm)
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