Dr. Jeffrey Upperman, director of the Disaster Preparedness project at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles
Imagine it is the middle of the day. Your kids are in school, you are at the office. The building begins to sway and then the lights go out. You grab your phone and call your child's school, but you cannot get through. The building starts to shake violently, like nothing you've felt before. Is this the quake they've been warning everyone about? Where is your child? Is she safe? Who is taking care of her? Is she as frightened as you are?
Most parents work to make sure their children are prepared to cope with whatever the world throws at them. We help them with their homework to make sure they are ready for school. We try to make sure they eat the right foods. And, we want to keep them out of harm's way. But do parents really teach their children what they need to know in the event of a disaster? Many parents in California have an emergency kit in the house and car, but are our children ready? Would they know how to cope and keep themselves safe if they were separated from us?
Dr. Jeffrey Upperman is director of the Disaster Preparedness project at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. He has spent years making sure public health institutions are prepared to address the needs of children in an emergency. Through his practice he has also learned a good deal about what families can do to prepare themselves-and their children-for the consequences of a disaster.
Experts say that children as young as age three can begin to understand earthquakes, floods, fires and other disasters. They should also be able to understand some simple steps you can take together to ensure they stay safe if you are not there to help them. Dr. Upperman's top tips for you and your children:
* Create a "business card" or ID CARD for your child just like yours. Include their name, address, phone number on the front, and a list of emergency contacts on the back, including out-of-state relatives and your pediatrician. Make them promise to keep the cards in their pocket or backpack.
* Coordinate with other parents to arrange for each of your
children to have a "buddy" - another child in their class or playgroup that they should stay close to in an emergency. Get parents and buddies together every six months to review family disaster plans.
* Make sure your children know who to call if they cannot reach
you - designate an out-of-town friend or relative to be a point of contact. Once a month, schedule a time for your child to call that relative just to say hello. The more regularly they communicate, the more comfortable they will be calling in an emergency.
* Every household has features that can be dangerous in the event
of a disaster-things like overhead lights, unsecured water heaters or bookcases, toxic or flammable household cleaners or chemicals. Get your children to help you search the house and make a list of potential hazards. Use the search as an opportunity to teach them about the importance of household safety.
* Volunteer to work with your children, their classmates and their
teacher to create a checklist the class can use in the event of an earthquake or other emergency. Create the checklist as a group, and produce pocket-size copies of the checklist for your children to keep in their desks at school.
* Create a list with your children of all the "helpers" they can
count on if there is an emergency and you are not together. The list would include teachers, doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen. With young children, create a collage with pictures of the helpers. The goal is to ensure kids will feel comfortable and safe with caretakers and emergency workers.
* Have your child create a shopping list for the family's disaster
preparedness kit and shop for the items together. Have them help you pick the storage place, and put them in charge of one of the items in the kit.
* Role play with your children-act out what might happen at
school. Let your child be the adult, and you play the child who needs to be told what to do in an emergency.
* Talk to your children and make sure they talk to you. When there
is news of a disaster or emergency in the world, use the news as a "teachable moment," a way to remind your child how to prepare so that your family will be safe.