Disasters can leave children and teens frightened, confused and insecure. They cannot adjust on their own when the people, places and routines they depend on for safety and wellbeing are affected by upheaval. Their responses can be quite varied and are likely to suffer long-term developmental, physical and psychological setbacks. That’s why it’s important to not only recognize these reactions, but to also help children cope with their emotions by following these four tips: 1) encourage dialogue and answer questions; 2) limit media exposure; 3) make time for them and find support; and 4) stick to a routine.
Another way to support our children is to ensure facilities have strong emergency plans; preparedness education for youth is critically important. Too often, disaster preparedness lessons are limited to school fire drills, active shooting lockdowns or simply avoided altogether due to the sensitive nature of the topic. However, learning about disasters and how to respond actually helps children gain a sense of understanding and control so they are equipped to respond more quickly and safely in a crisis.
Being prepared for disasters starts at home. Everyone can be part of helping to prepare for emergencies. Young children and teens alike can be a part of the process. As a parent, guardian or other family member, you have an important role to play when it comes to protecting the children in your life and helping them be prepared in case disaster strikes.
First Step: Get your family prepared for any disaster by developing an emergency plan, building a kit, and understanding the basics.
In the emergency supplies kit, include and know the following:
- A three-day supply of water and nonperishable food.
- Flashlights, blankets and kid-friendly activities. FEMA and Red Cross both provide a list of emergency supplies to help you prepare.
- Create and practice your emergency plan. Include two evacuation routes, a safe room and two different meet-up locations — and make sure kids can run through it calmly.
- Run through the basics. Kids should know how to call 911, identify themselves, identify their location, reach emergency contacts, and get to predetermined safe locations.
Being prepared for disasters starts at home. Everyone can be part of helping to prepare for emergencies.
Second Step: Teach your kids about the different natural disasters and how to react in each one.
- Tornado. If you are in the path of a tornado, go into a tornado safe place. This is typically the lowest level of the building and staying away from windows, doors and outside walls. If you are outside with no car or nearby shelter, lie down in a ditch and protect your head.
- Severe thunderstorm. If you have advanced notice that a severe storm is heading your direction, there are ways to be more prepared. If a storm is sudden, go indoors if you see lightning or hear thunder, and don’t use items that plug into electrical outlets. Avoid using running water, as faucets can conduct electricity.
- Earthquake. Practice the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” method, and learn to recognize safe places in each room at home and at school.
- Hurricane. When you know a hurricane is expected, prepare your home and family for the possibility of impact. During the storm, stay away from glass windows and doors, and be ready to follow hurricane evacuation instructions from emergency officials if necessary.
- Flooding. Don’t go into flooded areas. “Turn Around, Don’t Drown!” Just six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
- Wildfire. If you are under a wildfire warning, get to safety right away. Leave if told to do so. If trapped, call 911 and use N95 masks to keep particles out of the air you breathe.
- Snowstorms/Extreme Cold. Stay off roads, stay indoors and dress warmly. Prepare for power outages and use generators if possible. Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbite, and check on neighbors.
Step Three: Update your kit and plan to the “new normal.”
Parents or guardians may be overwhelmed addressing the needs of their whole family with the upcoming school year. The best thing families can do for protection is to prepare ahead of time to meet the children’s unique needs at times of disaster.
You may also need to adjust your actions and emergency plan based on the latest guidance from the CDC and your local officials. Keep in mind the safety of others as well as your own. Make sure to put extra gloves, face masks and hand sanitizer in your kit. Check with your shelter as it may require the use of face masks while you shelter there during the storm.
Please visit these resources for more information on youth preparedness:
Preparedness for Kids at Home & School
Children and Youth Preparedness Toolkit
Prepare Your Kids
Prepare Your Teens
Disaster Safety for Expecting and New Parents
Prepare Your Families
Helping Children Cope
Preparedness Games for Kids
Common Disaster Across the U.S.
Sesame Street Emergency Preparation Videos
More than ever before, we need to teach our children about emergency preparedness. As you know, disasters and emergencies can occur when you least expect it, and everyone needs to know their role to stay resilient.