Why You Need a Disaster Communication Plan for Your Family, and How to Make One.
It might be obvious to an adult, but children likely don't know who to call in an emergency. Sure, they know about 911 and they can always call grandma. But, what about when things get more complicated? Serious disasters can remove the normal communication methods that we rely on. A major natural disaster or regional event may also affect grandma. If there is no electricity then all the phone numbers stored in a smartphone are useless. A communication plan or your family can eliminate these issues.
It is important to have a list of emergency contact information available in a location where it can be easily accessed. These contacts should include your doctor, the family pediatrician, fire department, utilities, police, and other emergency service providers. Also include family members, neighbors, and friends your children are familiar with that may be able to provide assistance. This list should be labeled "Emergency Contacts" and it can help first-responders in the event that the injured individual is unresponsive.
You probably spend 1/3 of your time away from home and separate from you and your family members. Should a disaster jeopardize your normal routine, what would you do?
You need to have a prearranged meeting place for specific events. You also need a plan for how everyone will get there. If you have young children the best option may be having them wait at school/daycare until an adult member of your household can get them.
Determine who children should contact if they are away from home, and how. Cell phones may not work, pre-arranged meeting places and contact information of trusted friends/neighbors are essential for kids to know. Again, it may be the best option for kids in an emergency to remain at school with staff or seek out local authorities (IE police, medical personnel.)
Consider Your Risks: Before doing anything else, take time to consider your risks. The 3 things to consider are 1) Disasters most likely to affect your area 2) Your children, their ages and ability to be self-sufficient/responsible and 3) medical issues, regional factors, etc.
Choosing Emergency Contacts: Choose a local, out of town, and out of region contact if possible. You will want someone in your neighborhood who can lend a hand in a medical emergency or home fire. However, if a major disaster threatens your neighborhood you will want to have a contact out of state who is unaffected by the event that you are dealing with. Ideally, your contacts will be someone that your whole family is familiar with. Texting is the recommended method of communication during a disaster. This leaves phone lines/networks open for emergency workers.
Emergency Meeting Place: Just as with the emergency contacts, designate a local, out of town, and out of state/region meeting place. (Your out of town/region contacts could serve as meeting places.) These meeting places should be accessible and familiar to all members of your family. Obviously out of town and out of state meeting places will only be necessary for extreme situations where evacuation is ordered, but knowing there is somewhere you can find help and potentially reunite can provide hope during a crisis.
Important questions children may have:
Where is everyone during the day (Work, church, schools, activities)?
Keeping a weekly schedule posted on your fridge or in some other accessible will allow children, neighbors, or emergency responders to contact parents or guardians if they are not at home.
How will you(parents) find me?
Children may have concerns about being separated from their parents during a disaster or emergency. Discuss plans with your children. Let them know who would pick them up. Be sure that members of the family are aware of the methods the school and daycare centers use to distribute information. Many schools have alert systems that you can subscribe to and receive texts, emails, or calls regarding safety and emergencies.
How will I know what's happening?
Anyone with a smartphone can sign up for emergency alerts to keep them updated about local disasters. Advise your kids that they are to listen to teachers, police officers, and trusted neighbors in there absence. Forming a good relationship with neighbors and school teachers is crucial especially for families with unique and special needs.
How do we get in contact?
There are numerous ways to connect these days. Texting is recommended for communicating during a disaster. Leaving notes, using social media, can be an alternate means of communication. If a smartphone/cellphone is not functional or available, kids should know where and who they can go to for help.
Where is the local Police station, Fire department, Hospital?
Show kids where local police and hospital locations are and under what circumstances you may need to go there.
As part of your emergency plan, you should explain to your children where important things are like your emergency kit, first aid kit, or fire extinguisher. You should also discuss specific things to do during disasters that are the highest risk for your area. If you live in areas especially vulnerable to earthquakes or hurricanes, then you should make certain your children are aware of the specific threats they pose.
Adults and older children with smartphones can download useful apps with tons of first aid and emergency information. These two apps are free and full of life-saving information
Without a plan, parents and kids may be subject to anxiety, fear, and panic. It is not possible to completely eliminate the fear and anxiety that comes from the unknown. However, if you plan ahead with your children you can relieve their anxiety during a disaster.