Let’s face it: Emergencies and natural disasters are often unpredictable, and they can catch you completely off guard. But they don’t have to — and we’re here to help. After all, the time to prepare for a flood, fire, tornado or hurricane is when one isn’t happening. Being prepared for a disaster can help you and your family feel more comfortable and confident in your actions when these situations arise.
The key to being prepared is communication. Knowing exactly how to talk to younger family members about natural disasters and what to include in these discussions are two important points to consider.
How to Talk to Your Family about Natural Disasters
Before discussing what your family might do during a natural disaster, remember that children need age-appropriate information about these situations. Here is some advice on how to talk about disasters and disaster planning with children.
1. Create an open and supportive environment. Let your children know that they can ask as many questions as they want. Try to understand how their questions might connect to their internal thoughts and feelings.
2. Be honest, but keep the discussion age appropriate. Children can usually tell if you’re making something up, so be as honest as possible while still keeping the conversation at a level they’re capable of understanding. Using child-friendly activity books or a children’s book about a natural disaster can help.
3. Be reassuring but realistic. Explain to your children that they are safe, but don’t promise that a natural disaster won’t ever occur. Pay attention to their nonverbal cues, and if you think they’re showing signs of concern or anxiety, be willing to have another conversation to help put them at ease.
4. Mention the helpers. Let your children know that if something happens, there are lots of people that will be there to help.
5. Focus on preparedness. Tell your children that your family will have a plan in case there is a natural disaster, and that you’ll keep practicing until they’re comfortable with it. If your kids are old enough, have them help develop the plan — giving them the chance to participate could help alleviate their fears.
How to Make a Family Disaster Plan
After talking to your children, it’s time to make a family disaster plan. While it may sound intense, we promise it’s not. It’s basically a plan that outlines how your family is prepared for a natural disaster and what steps you would take in the event of one. It should also include important information like an established meeting place, emergency contacts and chosen escape routes, as well as checklists of each family member’s responsibilities. Use our family disaster plan downloadable template to get started.
Here’s how to develop your plan:
1. Discuss which natural disasters are likely to affect your home based on where you live. For example, if you live in Oklahoma, you’re probably most at risk for tornadoes; if you live in New Jersey, you’re more likely to experience flooding. And while it’s not technically a natural disaster, keep in mind that we are all at risk for house fires.
2. Identify hazards in your home. If you notice anything like frayed electrical wiring or loose shelves, fix them as soon as possible.
3. Create a first-aid kit. You should also consider taking a family first-aid class so that you are all equipped to handle medical emergencies.
4. Decide on a disaster meeting place and a family contact. One meeting place should be right outside of your home, and the other should be at a nearby location (such as a mall or restaurant) in case you are not all together or all cannot access your home. All family members should know the address and phone number of your meeting locations and know how to get a hold of each other if your family is separated.
If you or someone in your family is the caretaker for another person who lives nearby, make a plan to connect with or meet up with this person in the event of a disaster.
5. Store an appropriate amount of water. Experts recommend one gallon of water per person per day, and to store at least several days’ worth of water per person. Be sure to store it in a cool, dark place in glass or plastic (soda bottles work well) and rotate out the supply every six months.
6. Prepare a food supply. Canned meats, fruits and veggies work best. Aim for a two-week supply of food per person.
7. Create an emergency supply kit. It’s a good idea to store two kits: one for if you need to stay where you are, and one you can transport easily if you need to evacuate. Basic emergency supplies should include:
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Battery-powered radio
- Candles and a lighter
- First-aid kit with bandages, scissors, gauze, tourniquet, tape, alcohol pads, etc.
- Toiletries (Bounty Paper Towels, Charmin Toilet Paper, Pampers Wipes, Oral-B toothbrushes, Crest toothpaste, etc.)
- Local maps
- Wrench or pliers
- Can opener
- Dust masks
8. Gather important family documents. Consider keeping copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof container or binder so that you can grab it easily in case of disaster.
9. Familiarize yourself with escape routes. Be aware of several evacuation routes (including alternates) in case you need to evacuate your home.
10. Practice the plan. Your family should practice your plan every six months, including your evacuation drills. As you’re practicing your plan, use a checklist to help facilitate the process.
Preparing for disaster doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, having a solid plan will help you and your family stay as safe as possible in the event of a natural disaster. Download our guide and get planning.