From natural disasters to medical emergencies, an effective family emergency plan is more than a nice-to-have -- it can be a lifesaver. Emergencies are stressful enough for parents who understand what's happening, but children aren't always up to speed about what to do when a dangerous situation arises.
Creating and regularly reviewing a family emergency plan with children is critical for physical, mental, and emotional preparedness when the unexpected strikes. Here are five tips to help you keep your family safe under duress.
1. Discuss Potential Emergencies
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes, explain to your kids what happens during those events. Share what you and your spouse will do to handle the situation, how the family will evacuate, and what your kids should do if they become separated from the rest of the family.
You should also address any potential medical emergencies your family could face together. Take a look at your family's medical history to uncover possible scenarios to prepare for -- depending on the family, that could mean an allergic reaction, an asthma attack, or a stroke.
2. Collect Important Phone Numbers
Knowing when and how to call for help is one of the most important aspects of a family emergency plan. Collect any key phone numbers, including the home, mobile, and office lines for you, your spouse or significant other, and any other caretaker who might help in a time of need, such as a grandparent or a neighbor. Include numbers for the local hospital, fire department, and emergency services.
Write down the most important phone numbers and who they connect to, and program the numbers into everyone's mobile phones. If your child doesn't have a mobile phone yet, teach them how to use a landline so they can make a phone call on their own if necessary. Knowing exactly whom to call at a moment's notice can make a world of difference if you and your children are overwhelmed during an emergency.
3. Establish a Plan and a Route
If you ever need to flee the scene due to a home-related emergency or a natural disaster, you'll need an evacuation plan. This includes potential routes you might take to a safer destination, as well as what you will bring with you when you don't have much time to pack. Help your kids make a list of important items they'll want to bring with them in an emergency, and consider having a bag packed with the essentials in case you ever do need to evacuate.
4. Make a Plan for Your Pets
If you have pets, you might not be able to bring them where you go in an emergency, such as certain shelters or places that serve food. You'll need to have a plan for how to take care of your pets in the event of a disaster so they aren't left in danger. Find pet-friendly hotels and shelters, boarding facilities for pets, and veterinarians with 24-hour emergency numbers. Additionally, make sure you have a sturdy carrier for transportation, identification, a collar, a leash, proof of vaccinations, food, toys, and a current photo of your pet in case they get separated from your family.
5. Quiz Your Kids Regularly
Just like homework and tests at school, quizzing your children on your family's emergency plan keeps the information fresh in their minds. Depending on where you live, review your plan at key times of year, such as before hurricane, heat-wave, or blizzard season. Otherwise, develop a regular plan-review schedule, such as every six months.
As you create and review this plan, always remind your family -- and yourself -- how important it is to keep calm during an emergency. Avoiding panic and staying level-headed helps you make the right decisions as quickly as possible. Armed with this sense of calm in addition to a well-constructed emergency plan, you and your family will be ready to take on any challenging scenario you might face.