Mental health professionals

Preparation: Family

Being educated about disasters and how they affect youth and adults, developing a plan, practicing the implementation of the plan in authentic and organized ways, and ensuring you have the supplies to support your family in the event of an emergency is a crucial part of disaster preparedness for families. Research suggests that preparation and practice will likely result in better success during the event of an actual emergency.1

Education about Disasters

Just as it is important that youth are educated about disasters, it is also important that parents and families know about different types of disasters and how they affect youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emergency Preparedness and Response website provides a wealth of information on different types of disasters including bioterrorism, radiation and chemical emergencies, mass casualties, recent outbreaks and incidents, and natural disasters and severe weather.

In addition to knowing about different types of disasters, it is also important for families to be aware of how disasters may affect youth as a result of their anatomic and physiological differences. For example, due to their small size and higher breathing rate, youth can be affected by toxins differently than adults. In response to disasters, youth may require different dosages of medication and different sizes of emergency equipment. They also require more food and drink than adults.2 Parents and caregivers can help ensure they are prepared to address the unique needs of youth by working with emergency responders to share medical records and their child’s medical needs and by confirming they have enough food, water, and medical supplies to meet the needs of their children and family in the event of a disaster.

Family Emergency Plan

Families may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to plan in advance: how they will contact one another; how they will get back together; and what they might do in different situations. Consider the following:

  • Identifying key meeting locations. This may include a location near your house, a nearby location outside of your neighborhood, and a location outside of your community.
  • Identifying where your family spends most of its time (e.g., school, work, organizations) and selecting meeting locations related to these places.
  • Detailing key information about each family member including important medical information.
  • Developing cards with family member contact information for each family member to carry with them.
  • Identifying a contact person who lives out of state that family members can notify if they are safe. During disasters, long distance communication may be easier than local communication. In addition, program your contact person into your families’ cell phones as ICE—“In Case of Emergency”—so emergency responders will know whom to contact.
  • Ensuring that family members know how to use text messaging, as text messages can often get around network disruptions that often occur during disasters.
  • Subscribing to alert services so you are aware of road closures, weather, and other potential alerts.3

Findings from the 2009 Citizen Corps National Survey suggest that only 44 percent of individuals reported having a household emergency plan that provided information for family members about where to go and what to do in the event of a disaster.4 While many families continue to lack emergency plans, research suggests that having a child or youth in the household increases the intention of adults to prepare for emergencies.5

Disaster Preparedness Kit

A key piece of the family emergency planning effort is developing a disaster preparation kit with supplies to support your family for up to 72 hours in the event of a disaster. According to the 2009 Citizen Corps National Survey, 57% of individuals reported having “supplies set aside in their home to be used only in the case of a disaster.” The most frequently mentioned supplies that participants noted were food and water, with 74% noting that they had a supply of packaged food and 71% noting they had bottled water. Fewer respondents mentioned other essential supplies such as a flashlight (42%), first-aid kit (39%) or portable radio (20%). In addition, only 44% of respondents mentioned that they updated their kits on an annual basis.6

Examples of supplies to include in a Disaster Preparedness Kit are:

  • Water (one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter, or solar charger

Additional supplies may include pet food, prescription medication, important family documents, and infant formula. Learn more about what you may include in your disaster preparedness kit. It is important not only to prepare a disaster preparedness kit, but also to ensure that it is up to date and maintained properly. Learn more about maintaining and storing your disaster preparedness kit.7

This site provides information and resources about disasters and disaster preparedness. It includes a section focused on kids, an interactive site with kid-friendly information, activities, and games focused on disaster preparedness, including making a plan and assembling disaster preparedness kits. It also includes resources and information for parents and teachers to support disaster preparedness education. Family Plan
This website, supported by FEMA, provides information, things to consider, and an example plan that families can use in preparing for disasters. In addition to developing a plan, it is important to discuss the plan with all members of the family including youth, and to practice the plan to see if there are any issues.

FEMA Preparedness Tips for Parents and Guardians
This resource contains tailored, practical suggestions on preparedness and links to tools and resources for parents and guardians. Resources are pulled from FEMA, the Department of Education, CDC, and practitioners in the field. This resource helps parents and guardians better understand school emergency policies and will not only help parents and guardians recognize what safety measures are being offered in school, but it can also highlight areas where they can bolster their own emergency planning.

Bringing Youth Preparedness Education to the Forefront: A Literature Review and Recommendations
Recognizing the need for research to evaluate the current state of disaster preparedness education and research regarding youth, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) commissioned a review of the literature related to emergency preparedness education for youth. The objectives of this review were to identify research and evaluations of youth education interventions for emergency preparedness and to use the findings to develop recommendations that can be used to assess current programs and to enhance the provision of youth preparedness education programs.

American Red Cross and FEMA: Helping Children Cope with Disaster (PDF, 12 pages)
This booklet was created to assist parents and caregivers in helping youth cope with disasters and emergencies. The guide also provides information on preparing family emergency plans and discussing these plans with youth.

CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response Website
This website is CDC’s primary source of information and resources for preparing for and responding to public health emergencies. This site continues to keep the public informed about public health emergencies and provides the information needed to protect and save lives. The site features specific information and resources focused on different types of disasters including bioterrorism, chemical emergencies, natural disasters, radiation emergencies, mass casualties, and others.

CDC Emergency Preparedness and You
The possibility of public health emergencies arising in the United States concerns many people in the wake of recent hurricanes, tsunamis, acts of terrorism, and the threat of pandemic influenza. Taking advance action helps people deal with disasters of all sorts much more effectively when they do occur. To help, CDC and the American Red Cross have teamed up to answer common questions and provide step-by-step guidance.

ACF Preparing for Disasters and Disruptions to Service Continuity
Preparing for disasters involves creating plans, preparing to manage during a disaster, and enhancing critical infrastructure prior to a disaster. In this section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway from the Administration for Children and Families, you will find federal and state resources for professionals and families to prepare for disasters—both natural (e.g., hurricanes, floods, fires) and human created (e.g., terrorism) —including examples of State disaster plans.

Department of Homeland Security Plan and Prepare for Disasters
This section of the Department of Homeland Security website provides information and resources focused on planning and preparing for a disaster by understanding the cycle of preparation, planning for disasters, and developing a culture of preparedness.

1 Nager, 2009
2 Bernado & Veenema, 2004; Markenson & Redler, 2004; Peek, 2008
3, n.d.1
4 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2009
5 Ronan, 2010
6 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2009
7, n.d.2

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