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Preparing for Disaster With Young Children

What you need to do to ensure your whole family is safe and sound

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girl carried by firefighter

Prepare for an emergency with your toddler.

Arthur Tilley/Getty Images
For a number of reasons, it's clear that being prepared for a potential disaster is more important than ever. From increased instances of extreme weather conditions to the very real possibility of a terrorist attack -- emergencies happen, and so each home should have a well-thought-out plan for evacuation and emergency survival.

You can find up-to-date tips on emergency preparedness at the Ready web site set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If you have small children, though, there are some other points you should know about being prepared for a disaster. Here are five steps to keep in mind as you and your family get ready to manage any unexpected problems.

1. Introduce the Idea to Young Children

Toddlers are not going to understand a detailed explanation of preparing for a storm, but you can teach some of the concepts related to preparing for an emergency. Sesame Street created a video series that is a good introduction for little kids. You can view the videos, Let's Get Ready! Planning Together for Emergencies with toddlers and young children. The series emphasizes vocabulary such as "emergency" and the importance of teaching your child her full name and your full name. Use the song by Rosita to help children as young as two to remember this information and, if your child is ready, his address as well.

2. Practice a Family Emergency Plan

What would your family do in the event of a disaster? It's important to have a disaster plan that everyone in your home (as well as other family members and friends) are familiar with. The first step is to consider what types of emergencies you could possibly need to deal with -- from the common house fire, to a possible natural disaster for your area such as a hurricane or tornado. Then consider what actions you would need to take in various situations. For instance:
- How will you escape and get little one out of the house if everyone's home?
- If something happens while your child is with a caregiver, how will you get to him or what should the caregiver know to do?
- Where can your family plan to meet up in case you are not together when an emergency strikes?

3. Pack a Disaster Kit With Your Child

Putting together your emergency supplies while your child watches or helps is another good way to introduce the idea that an emergency might happen -- and to possibly make things less scary if there is a disaster because your child would have heard the words and seen this kit beforehand.

The list of items to include in your emergency kit varies and depends on your personal needs, but here are some key things for parents to pack:
- three gallons of water per adult (about 3 days' worth) and about an extra quart to a half gallon per day for young children.
- at least three days' worth of non-perishable food for each person along with a sharp knife, other utensils, plates, manual can opener
- emergency radio that doesn't require batteries
- one flashlight per pesron with extra batteries along with candles and matches
- over the counter pain killers and prescription medications
- a week's worth of diapers and wipes
- personal hygiene items (deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair products, soap)
- toilet paper
- feminine hygiene products
- plastic garbage bags with ties for personal sanitation use
- household chlorine bleach
- at least one change of clothing for each (underwear and socks)
- cell phones and chargers
- extra keys
- copies of all important documents in a water-tight bag or pouch (driver's licenses, passports, birth certificates, medical records, insurance information)
- cash and rolls of coins for vending machines
- a favorite toy for your child and something new to delight her

4. Make Sure Your Child Can be Identified

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers several practical tips to help you ensure your child is safe in the event you are separated during an emergency. The first rule, is to try and stay together at all times, but in case you cannot find your child, it helps to be prepared.
- Have recent photos of your child with you at all times
- Be sure your child has emergency contact information for you on him --even if that means you need to write your name and number on his arm with indelible ink when you evacuate or when you hear of a disaster coming your way.

A company called SafetyTat can provide you with customized temporary tattoos you can put on your child (good for days at the zoo as well as during an evacuation).

5. Evacuate When You Can

Last time they said the storm would be the worst ever and we had nothing...
It's just too hard for us to stay somewhere else with a toddler...
We have supplies; we'll be fine...

Too many people have regretted those types of words. When given warning that a disaster is headed your way, heed the alarm and relocate. It is likely to be inconvenient, annoying, and possibly expensive if you have to go to a hotel -- but it is safer than trying to carry children through rushing waters during a flood or similar situation. Remember, too, a well stocked evacuation kit can make the upheaval a little more manageable.

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