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Brush up on Family Safety During National Preparedness Month

Preparing your family for natural disasters is the only way to increase their chance of survival and lessen their chance of injury when disaster strikes. No corner of the world is too remote to be touched by nature’s fury, be it earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, tornadoes or floods. And so the U.S. government has declared September “National Preparedness Month”, urging families and communities across the country to take the opportunity to learn how to survive in worst case scenarios.

We in the Twin Cities area know all too well how suddenly and severely natural disasters can strike. We’re no strangers to dangerous tornadoes and floods, and have had our fair share of debilitating snowfalls.

F5_tornado_Elie_Manitoba_2007
(Photo credit: Justin Hobson)

Children are particularly at risk of injury or death in natural disasters. Without a firm family plan in place, they can wander straight into the path of danger, often by returning to damaged yet familiar buildings like home or school. Headwaters Relief Organization, headquartered in Golden Valley, works with victims of natural disasters around the world. But they are particularly dedicated to helping prepare children, since preparation saves lives.

Headwaters Relief recommends the following activities for moms to ready their kids and families for disaster:

  • Create an emergency kit. A basic survival kit should contain at least a 3 day supply of water (1 gallon per person per day); non-perishable food for each person; flashlights; a first aid kit; sanitary wipes or other hygiene products; a multi-purpose tool like a Swiss Army knife; a hand-crank or battery powered radio; batteries for the radio and flashlights; medications (if needed); mobile phone(s) and charger(s); copies of important documents like lists of medications taken and medical history, birth certificates, house deeds, passports, wills, personal identification and insurance information); cash money; blankets; a change of clothes for each person; a map of the local area and contact details for family and friends. Make sure the kit stays in an easily accessible place.
  • Do your homework. Ask your local Red Cross chapter or office of emergency management what types of natural disasters are most likely to strike in the area so you know how to plan ahead and what to expect. You should also ask what, if any sirens, alarms, broadcast interruptions or other alerts will be available to warn you of impending disaster. Contact your school(s) or day care to find out what their emergency plans are in case you’re not with your kids when a disaster occurs.
  • Draft a family plan. In case you are separated, a family plan will help you find each other and reach safety. Have a meeting place outside of your neighborhood in the event you can’t return home, and select someone out of the area to serve as your emergency contact. Make sure that everyone in the family and anybody who may be looking after your kids, like a babysitter, memorize the meeting point and the emergency contact details. Examine your house and neighborhood and plan escape routes for both. A good rule of thumb is to have 2 escape routes from each room in your house.
  • Talk to your kids. Go over the family plan with your children calmly, but impress upon them that it’s extremely important they commit it all to memory – just in case. Let them know that sometimes nature can be dangerous, and this preparation is necessary to keep them safe. Give them some form of personal information to keep in their school bag and explain they should show it to police or other authority figures if they are lost. Make sure they know the phone number of the emergency contact and how to dial it.
  • Get emergency identification cards for your children. Most police stations are able to give you an emergency ID for each of your children. It will have a photo and their name, and may contain other details like date of birth, height, weight, eye and hair color. Some police also give the option of fingerprinting your children. You will be responsible for keeping these documents in a safe place. In case you can’t find your kids, give them to the authorities. It will help them greatly with their search.
  • Plan with your neighbors. Hold a neighborhood meeting and make sure you’re all on the same page about what to do in disaster. There’s always a chance your kids could stray next door in a moment of panic, so it’s important your neighbors know how to keep your family safe, as well as themselves.
  • Have family drills. You can make the drills fun, such as offering a prize for the child who completes them first. But the main objective is to have children practice how to exit the house safely, how to reach the family meeting place, how to dial the emergency contact and disaster-specific lifesavers like “stop, drop and roll” in case of fire. The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA offer a few online games kids can play to reinforce the things you teach them during drills and family talks.

If you have questions about preparing for a natural disaster in our area, you can speak with Headwaters Relief volunteers at the 2014 Minneapolis Emergency Prepare Fair on September 23rd. Headwaters Relief will be presenting at the fair, which will be held at IDS Crystal Court & Nicollet Mall between 6th and 10th Streets.

Hopefully you and your family will never need to use this information. But preparing for the worst is a good idea even if that day never comes!

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