As we prepare to close out 2016 and welcome a new year, I want to suggest a resolution that will benefit your whole family: Create a family emergency plan.
All families should have an emergency plan that they practice regularly. A basic plan should include everyday occurrences, such as answering the door or telephone when children are home alone. It should also cover common occurrences, such as fire, and cover issues from checking smoke detectors regularly to having children understand the sound they make to practicing what to do when a smoke alarm sounds to designating a meeting spot for the family will gather safely.
Finally, a plan should have contingencies for more significant emergencies, such as a tornado or flood where the family might be separated for some time. In either instance, set up safe shelter spots and establish an out-of-town contact that everyone in the family knows to call and check in with – which will help parents know their children are alright if they are unable to reach them immediately.
Developing an emergency plan in advance of actually needing one can help take the fear out of a situation for children. Instilling an overall mindset of preparedness is a gift that will last them – and you – a lifetime.
Preparedness helps parents and kids develop mental scripting. For example, when something bad happens, your brain looks for a “script” to see if or how you have dealt with a similar situation in the past. When you talk about or practice an emergency response with your kids, you are putting a script in your brains that you can go back to should that situation arise. Absent that script, we all default to the responses that are hardwired in us: Fright, flight or freeze, all of which could be deadly in an emergency.
So where do you starting building a family emergency plan?
- Understand your risk: Start with Homefacts.com to learn about your neighborhood. Plugging in your zip code will give you a treasure trove of information about where you live, from the number of registered sex offenders to the most common natural disasters. You can tailor your emergency plan to the most likely risk based on where you live.
- Know your resources: Almost every county in the United States will have an emergency manager who can provide additional resources for you to assess – and respond to – risks, whether they are floods, tornadoes or wildfires. If your county offers Smart911®, spend 30 minutes and sign up for the free and confidential service, which will aid first responders should you ever need to call for help.
- Develop a communication plan: Since you may not all be together when an emergency happens, it’s vital to think through how you will communicate in advance. The federal government has a detailed site, ready.gov that offers forms to be downloaded that include out-of-town contacts, spots for you and your children’s dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical information, neighbors and a list of the common addresses where you live, work, go to school or regularly travel. It also includes templates for cards that should be given to all family members and carried in wallets, purses or book bags.
- Assemble an emergency kit: It’s wise to put together an emergency kit that will include your communications plan, nonperishable food, bottled water, basic first aid supplies and other useful equipment. Be sure to add a flashlight, batteries, can opener, duct tape, pocket knife, whistle to signal for help, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, local maps and cell phone charger. A detailed list can be found on ready.gov/kit.
- Determine an escape route, shelters: Getting out of harm’s way is critical. Be sure to walk through your home or apartment and develop a list of safe evacuation routes – other than the front door. It’s equally as important to have safe gathering spots for your family once you exit. Develop a list of appropriate shelter locations and practice with your kids on how to get there.
- Practice: Once you establish your plan in writing, review it as a family at least twice a year. Each spring and fall, my family goes through our emergency plan, talking with our kids about how to handle different in-home safety situations. Parents who are calm, confident and prepared in an emergency situation will help greatly reduce any fear that children may have when the unexpected happens.