A tiny ribbon of black smoke curls up over the window pane as she reflexively touches the wall with the back of her had. Allison feels heat and knows that there is fire slowly snaking its way through the laundry room walls. Panic! Eight small children innocently napping one floor below as her aide silently watches over them. Allison alerts her aide and frantically they load 8 children into her car – no time for shoes and coats on this cold and wintry February day. She needs to get the children to safety but where do they go? The aide stays in the heated car with the children as Allison goes door to door until she finds a neighbor who can house them all until help arrives.
This is a true heartfelt story shared by one of the members of the pilot coalition in Putnam County, New York. It is a poignant example of an everyday hero thinking quickly to protect the lives of the children in her care.
I am working with the Resilient Children/Resilient Community Partnership project, a joint coalition to bring together child-serving organizations, law enforcement, and emergency management to discuss how the unique needs of children can be met when disaster strikes. Together the different child care serving organizations are finding ways to coordinate services and build networks to more effectively work together in the event of a natural disaster. The project consists of two pilot communities located in NW Arkansas and in Putnam NY.
A community’s resilience and ability to recover from disaster is measure by how well the children in the community are cared for. Children and families have unique needs that may not be addressed in emergency planning and response. Studies show that a delay in a return to normalcy has devastating consequences for a community. Many of us rely on child care serving organizations within our community. Schools, daycares, and after school programs are all under the auspices of community organizations. In the event of a disaster it is important for parents and anyone responsible for children during their workday to have effective plans in place so that children are safe and protected.
Disaster preparedness isn’t something we want to talk about or think about, yet we all agree it’s important. Disasters occur unexpectedly and for those of us who have not experienced the ravages of a disaster, it’s easy to think that “it’s not going to happen to me”. We all need to be engaged in preparedness for the sake of those we love most – our families. We make sure our children wear seat belts in the car and helmets on their bikes. Why not educate children about disaster preparedness in simple language that they can understand? Preparedness should be part of any safety conversation and should be as commonplace as fire drills.
September is National PrepareAthon month, and I invite you to create a family preparedness plan. Create a plan that ensures that you and your family can live safely and comfortably for at least 72 hours. Here are some easy ways you can raise awareness around the importance of disaster preparedness:
- Start preparedness conversations when your children are young. Make sure children know their first and last names and your first name as soon as they are able to talk.
- Have your children memorize your phone number and find out what type of emergency preparedness plan your school or daycare has.
- Be sure you know where your child will be sheltered if they need to be evacuated. How will you be reunited in the event you are separated from your child?
- Create a family disaster preparedness plan that meets your family’s individual needs and includes enough food and water for 72 hours. Have a reunification plan that all family members know about.
- Include pets in your plan and have enough food and water to meet their needs. Most shelters only allow service animals and in the event that you need to evacuate your home it is important to have a plan in place for your pets.
- Get to know your neighbors and learn about the resources that are available in your community.
- Sign up for emergency alerts.
- Learn more about disaster preparedness and how to create a preparedness plan: check out Save the Children’s Get Ready/Get Safe resources and the National Center for Disaster Preparedness 5 Action Steps to Preparedness and the Preparedness Wizard.
Allison was able to think quickly and safely evacuate the children in her care; we all have a shared responsibility to ensure that our children and families are safe and protected in the event of a disaster.
Save the Children: Get Ready/Get Safe
NCDP: 5 steps model for disaster preparedness
Emergency backpacks can be ordered online and may include crank flashlights and crank radios.