(Family Features) As many as 40 percent of American families do not have a family emergency plan in place, according to Save the Children®, a non-profit organization dedicated to giving children a healthy start and protection from harm. But emergencies can happen to anyone at any time, making emergency preparedness and safety education important issues for families to address, especially families with small children.
“There are many myths and assumptions that keep families from adequately preparing for emergencies, and the consequences can be devastating,” said Dr. Gloria Julius, vice president of education and professional development for Primrose Schools®, an early education and care provider with more than 300 schools across the country.
“A disaster is no time to realize that you’re not sure how to keep your family safe. That’s why we’ve partnered with Save the Children to educate families and children inside and outside our classrooms on the importance of emergency preparedness, while engaging them in steps they can take to keep their children safe in times of crisis.”
When disaster strikes, children are particularly vulnerable. Responding in a calm, organized manner not only helps your children know how to act, it conveys a powerful message that they are safe, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children will mirror your response and actions in times of crisis.
Make safety a priority for your family by learning about common misconceptions about emergency preparation and taking steps to ensure your family is ready to respond if a disaster strikes.
Emergency Prep: Myths vs. Reality
1. It Won’t Happen Here
According to data from Save the Children, 90 percent of children in the United States live in areas at risk for natural disaster, and 54 percent of U.S. families have been affected by some type of natural or other disaster.
For too many parents, the day they start thinking about emergency preparedness is the day they are faced with an actual disaster. Start now and take time to prepare for emergencies by completing simple steps like filling out emergency contact forms that can be tucked in your child’s backpack at school, helping your children memorize emergency contact numbers and stocking your home with emergency supplies.
2. It’s Scary
Discussing emergencies can be daunting, but talking about it is an important part of helping parents prepare and protect their kids from disasters.
“Many parents worry about the right way to approach those conversations without sparking undue fear in children,” said Sarah Thompson, associate director of community preparedness with Save the Children. “By providing children age-appropriate education, you’re providing them with lifelong safety skills and a sense of mastery that will help them effectively respond to and cope with emergencies. In our partnership with Primrose Schools, we are helping more parents feel comfortable starting these important conversations to help children feel safe and families get prepared.”
Thompson and Julius recommend an educational approach to these conversations as a strategy to relieve fear and stress on both sides. Discussions can also incorporate fun elements, such as coloring the back of an emergency contact form that includes personal information or helping count items for an emergency kit. As you talk about emergencies, you can also discuss what makes your child feel safe and explain how community helpers, like firefighters and policemen, help in times of crisis.
“By teaching children basic disaster preparedness, you are demonstrating your love and care for them,” Thompson said. “Children can understand and appreciate that.”
3. My Kids Are Safe with Me
In reality, U.S. Census data reveals 59 million students are enrolled in nursery school through 12th grade — each spending a significant share of each day away from their parents. Add time spent away from home for activities and with friends, and suddenly the amount of time your children are by your side can start to feel small.
You can help ease fear on both sides by teaching your children what to expect if a disaster strikes when you aren’t together. Determine a meeting place should you be separated, and check with your child’s school or child care provider to ensure they have a plan for emergencies. In your discussion, also verify where you can meet your child if his school or child care center is evacuated. Some schools and care providers also include emergency preparedness tips in their curriculum. Check with your child’s school to see if they are already teaching some of these life lessons to your children — perhaps your kids could teach you a thing or two about disaster response.
4. We’re Already Prepared
You may feel like you’ve taken steps to protect your family, but keeping your family prepared for emergencies is an ongoing process, and it’s hard to plan for every detail, especially the unexpected. According to a 2012 FEMA survey, only 43 percent of respondents have actually created a household emergency plan, and just over half (52 percent) have emergency supplies in their homes.
Reviewing emergency preparedness materials, such as those offered through Primrose Schools’ 360 Parenting blog, can help you identify gaps or things you may have inadvertently overlooked. In addition, being prepared requires more than having a plan and making a disaster supply kit. It involves regular practice and maintenance, like practicing emergency drills with your children and keeping emergency contact information updated.
Emergency Checklist: Are You Prepared?
If the unthinkable happens, your children will look to you to know how to react and respond. Use the checklist below to help your family prepare and keep children safe in a disaster.
Make a family plan and determine:
• The facilities that will be used as shelters in your community in case of emergency
• A designated meet-up location if your family is separated
• An emergency contact outside of your area who would not be affected by a local disaster
Teach your children:
• Basic personal information to identify themselves if separated from you
• How to dial 911
• Your family’s meet-up locations
• How to reach your family’s out-of-town contact
Have a communications strategy:
• Program all family cell phones with “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) contacts
• Include all family phone numbers plus out-of-town contacts
• Remind family members that text messages often get through in an emergency, even when a phone call can’t
Create an Emergency Kit
Save the Children suggests preparing a backpack or portable bag for each family member with essential hygiene items and contact information in case you need to leave home. It’s important when packing this kit to also incorporate items specific to children, including:
• Each child’s contact and medical information
• Recent photos of each child
• Comfort food and snacks
• Activity items like books, puzzles and games
• Comfort items like a stuffed animal or blanket