My son was heading into First Grade when I began my preparedness journey. The realization that a disaster could happen while he was at school brought a new dimension (of stress and terror) to my planning. I didn’t want to send a 5-year-old to school with a 50-pound, 72-hour Bug Out Bag, but I wanted to make sure that he had some supplies to stay safe and comfortable until his mom or I could get to him.
In most cases your child’s school will be relatively close by, usually within a 5-mile radius of your house. According to multiple sources a good average walking speed for an adult is between 2.5 and 3.5 mph. Assuming the slower speed, it would take you 2 hours to get your child – if you were walking in a straight-line and there were no obstructions. Since most schools are not in a straight-line from anyone’s house and disasters always create obstructions, I plan for at least double that time or 4 hours to get to the child.
With this in mind, I created a plan that would sustain him for 4-8 hours. As with all preparedness planning layering is incredibly important. We’ll explore layering in a more detail in a future post, but in a nutshell, it is the idea that your preps build on each other like blocks. In this case there are three layers, their knowledge, their clothes and their kits.
I’ll go over the Knowledge component in this post and will have 2 more posts that discuss clothing and kit recommendations.
Now, 3 years later, my son is entering 3rd grade and his sister has moved through preschool and will be entering full day kindergarten in the Fall. I would love for my son and daughter to have all of the knowledge of Special Forces operatives, selfishly so I would feel like they could handle any situation better than I could. Realistically, I’m pretty sure that’s an unfair burden to put on an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. So, in this case we’re focusing their knowledge on some basic information that they would need to get help and to reunite with Mom and Dad. I’ve broken this into 3 areas: “Know Who You Are”, “Know Where You Are”, and “Know Who Can Help You”
Know who you Are
As parents it is easy to forget all of the information that we know about our children that they may not know about themselves. In an emergency, your child may be separated from adults who know them (parents, teachers, friends) and so they need to be comfortable and confident in conveying who they are to adults who can help them. In order to do this, they should know:
- Their full name (first, middle, and last)
- Their address (street address, city, state, and zip code)
- Their parents’ names
- Their parents’ phone number(s) (if each parent has a different number they need to know both of them, including area code)
- Their birthdate
- Any medical conditions they have (allergies, blood sugar issues, asthma, etc)
- Bonus points if they also know:
- How to write down these pieces of information
- Secondary location addresses (designated emergency meeting place, relative’s house, friend’s house)
- Additional contact phone numbers (family or friends who could come get them or could relay a message)
- Routes home (they shouldn’t take the route themselves but could help an adult get them home).
Know Where you Are
This section is a about geographic and environmental awareness. Understanding where they physically are located can help them understand when help may arrive and where to go to stay safe until it does. Having this knowledge can provide kids with some level of context to set their expectations and help them remain calmer. There are two pieces to this one: Time and Surroundings.
Kids need to understand where they are so they have an idea of how far away from you they are. This ultimately means how long it will take for you to get to them. You can help them understand this by using common reference points to illustrate relative distance or through rough time frames.
- Common Reference Points: Most kids have a general understanding of how long it takes to get to certain landmarks. They may not know it takes 10 minutes to get to Grandma’s house, but they know it takes longer to get to the Movie Theater than Grandmas. You can use these reference points to help them understand that the trip to school is 3 times as long as the trip to Grandma’s house (or whatever your children will recognize of course).
- Time Frames: Now that my kids are a little older I prefer to use this method since they have a better understand of time as a concept. I don’t use specific times because I don’t know what the situation will really be that day and I don’t want them to fixate on the time that I told them and become more upset if we’re late. I have let them know that it might be “a few hours” and that we might not be able to get there until “after dinner time”. This helps them to know when we think we’ll get there (realistically…”as fast as we can” should be a given) and sets their expectation that it won’t be as fast our morning drive to school.
In an emergency, they may need to find a safe place to go wait for help. Showing them what makes an area a “danger zone” (power lines, trees, roads with traffic, in general things that could fall on you or hit you) and then highlighting places that can be “safe areas” will help them find similar areas at other locations. For example, the field at their school is a great “safe area”. It’s an open area without trees that could fall during an aftershock, it’s away from the street so they don’t need to worry about avoiding traffic or incoming emergency vehicles, and they can be easily seen by emergency crews or school staff. Now if one of them is visiting a different school, they’ll have some ideas of not just what makes a “safe area” but where to go to find one.
Know who can Help
Kids can be very trusting of adults and strangers. In an emergency, a lot of adults who will be trying to help, will also be strangers. We teach our children some quick tips on how to pick the right adults to ask for help:
- Look for uniforms with badges or patches: Police, fire, EMT, and security personnel usually have distinctive uniforms. However, in an emergency there may be multiple agencies responding and they may be interacting with a Sheriff’s Deputy instead of a city police officer like the school resource officer who they see everyday. In our area the city police have dark blue uniforms and the Sheriff’s department have tan uniforms, but they both have badges.
- Look for lanyards or keycards: Teachers and Government workers usually have some sort of lanyard and/or keycard that is required to maintain security in the buildings that they work in.
- Look for adults working together: If a group of adults are working together to help people, they can likely help you too.
Ensuring that your kids have this base level Knowledge will make them better prepared than they were, and more confident in an emergency. It is critically important that your kids not only have the knowledge but feel comfortable using it. Have them practice with friends or family, or act out some scenarios at home, so they have the confidence to apply their knowledge in an actual emergency.
For more information on preparedness planning, check out this page with more planning articles.