First: Stay calm.
We know that preparing your family for natural disasters is daunting. On top of everything else to do and worry about as a parent, sometimes, the last thing you want to do is think about something like an earthquake or hurricane. But, preparedness is a state of mind, not a one-time task.
Children are one of the most vulnerable populations amidst a disaster and also critical to a community's recovery. After teaching disaster planning and after the birth of my 4-year old girl daughter these facts drove me to ask the same questions many parents I know had as well.
How and when do you start to prepare a child for a natural disaster? How do you talk about it in an age appropriate manner where the conversation leaves your child feeling secure and empowered instead of more scared?
What I learned was comforting. I found that with the more knowledge children have and practice they gain, the more prepared and resilient they can become. Like any new skill, it doesn't happen overnight—family preparedness needs to be practiced and developed over time.
How to talk to your kids about natural disasters
According to LadyBugOut advisor and child psychologist, Dr. Susan Ko, it's important to stay calm, collected and positive. Whatever you say, your children will remember the feeling, so reframe words. For example, instead of "fear" use the word, "calm." It's also important to plan for a series of small conversations so the topic is easier to understand.
Share your knowledge enthusiastically and often. Your child may not save your family during an earthquake, but through conversations and the practice drills, you can build built confidence and feelings of preparedness.
Here are ways to prepare for common natural disasters:
How to prepare your family for earthquakes
- Learn and commit to memory how to Drop, Cover and Hold on.
- If an earthquake occurs at night, discuss the importance of staying in bed with your children. Advise them to roll on to their stomachs and cover their head and neck and wait for you to come get them.
- If inside and you don't have a large object to seek cover under, drop where you are, avoiding windows, lighting fixtures or furniture that could fall.
- If outside, find an open space and stay there—move away from buildings, streetlights or trees
- Remember the top injury during an earthquake is cut feet; tie shoes to your bed or keep sneakers underneath to protect your feet.
How to prepare your family for wildfires
- If you see a wildfire, call 911. You may be the first person to have spotted it. Ensure your kids know this number as well.
- If emergency officials tell you to evacuate, do it!
- Be aware that smoke and ash can travel for miles sostay indoors, avoid strenuous play and exercise, keep doors and windows shut and set air conditioners to recirculate air. N95 masks can keep harmful particles out of the air you breathe, but they should only be worn if they have a proper fit.
- Turn on lights inside and outside your home, so your home can be identified in heavy smoke.
How to prepare your family for tornadoes
- If you are in a building, go to a basement, cellar, or lowest building level. e sure to bring items of comfort for your children such as lovies or stuffed animals. If there is no basement, go to an inside room like a closet or hallway. Stay away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls and do not open windows.
- If you are outside with no shelter nearby, get into a vehicle and buckle your seatbelt. Put your head down below the windows and cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion. If there isn't a car or shelter nearby, try to find a ditch or area lower than the ground and lie down. You are safer in a low, flat location than under a bridge or highway overpass.
How to prepare your family for hurricanes
- Stay away from windows and glass doors—they could break and hurt you.
- Don't go outside when the rain or winds stop. This is the eye of the storm, or a short "rest," and it will start again.
- If need be, stay inside a closet or a room without windows. You can also lie on the floor under a table or sturdy object.
As a general rule of thumb, here is what to keep in mind when preparing your family for any natural disaster:
- Educate yourself about the risks, resources, needs to keep your family safe in the event of a natural disaster.
- Focus a plan for reunification. Discuss where to meet to keep everyone safe.
- Have emergency supplies including food, water, medical, and safety items readily available.
- Communicate this plan to your community—both locally in your neighborhood and to a dedicated out of town contact.
Over time, preparedness will be a part of your family culture and each supply, task, drill, and conversation can bring your family safer, together.