A) Bad thunderstorms and the power’s out;
B) Heavy rains and the house is going to flood;
C) Smoke from a fire somewhere in the house; or
D) A tornado that’s been spotted touching down in our area.
What do you do? And what do your kids do?
As an adult, you probably know the basics of what to do in a variety of emergency situations:
A) Grab a flashlight, call the electric company and hunker down;
B) Go to higher ground before water enters your home to reduce the danger of electric shock and other risks;
C) Don’t panic, but get out quickly and safely, then call 911; or
D) Go to a windowless interior room or basement.
But it’s important to teach your school-age children what to do and how to react. “You want it to be second nature, because in a true emergency, every second counts,” said Renee McCabe, Safe Kids coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia at Augusta University.
Do you have an emergency plan?
Whatever your plan is, don’t let it just live inside your head, said McCabe. Write it down, then review it with your partner, other family members who may live with you and your school-age children (for younger children, the rule is for you to grab them in the event of an emergency).
A good emergency plan should include:
An escape plan: Focus on where exits are located. Make sure to identify at least two safe exits from each room, and if you have two stories, you may want to invest in a portable fire escape ladder or two if you have only one way to get down from the second floor. “And remember: Once family members escape the house, don’t go back into the house for any reason,” said McCabe.
A designated meeting place: Identify a specific safe location outside where everyone should meet. Ideally, you will all exit the house as a group, but that may not be possible.
Who to call: Remember that it’s best to wait until everyone is outside and safe to call 911. But in certain situations, say if you’re trapped or there’s an intruder and you can’t get out, of course call 911 immediately. Keep emergency numbers handy—the fridge is a great spot—and include the number to poison control (800-222-1222) as well as personal cell numbers. Also make sure children have memorized your cell numbers and the cell number of an emergency contact just in case.
A safety signal: If children are in trouble but can’t speak openly over the phone, establish a key word or phrase to alert parents to come home immediately.
An emergency kit/checklist: You’ll need different supplies depending on the emergency, but in general, it’s a good idea to have the following:
- Flashlights with new batteries
- A phone that’s charged and a portable charger
- A radio to stay updated on news reports
- Enough gas in the car
- Bottled water and food that can be prepared even if you’ve lost power or gas, along with a can opener
- Working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
- Family documents stored in a waterproof, fireproof, portable container
Various scenarios: Make sure to discuss different situations that would constitute an emergency and review what children should do. In most cases, the only action they need to take is to turn to their parent or the adult in charge. If older children are home alone, depending on the nature of the emergency, they may need to exit the house immediately, call 911 or simply call a trusted adult. “Possible emergencies at home include power outages, fires, tornadoes, intruders, accidental poisoning or severe injuries,” said McCabe.
Practice makes perfect
Federal agencies, hospitals and even your workplace hold drills to practice what to do in the event of an emergency. Your kids may roll their eyes, but practice ensures your children will automatically know how to act if and when an emergency happens.
Aim to practice with school-age children (yes, even 5-year-olds can practice what to do) every month. Run through different scenarios; practice getting out of the house; check that children know where to access flashlights, batteries, a charged cell phone and other supplies; and review emergency phone numbers.
“In many cases, we are able to plan for weather emergencies,” said McCabe. “Other situations are true emergencies, where danger appears in an instant. Having an emergency plan in place and practicing that plan so that it becomes habit are the most important things you can do to help you and your children stay safe.”