Preparing Children For Disasters
This information will help you prepare and protect yourself and your children in case of a disaster. It will
help you provide for your children’s basic physical and emotional needs, before, during and after
Disasters can happen quickly and without warning. These events are frightening for adults, but they can
be traumatic for children. As a parent, you will need to cope with the disaster in a way that will prevent
your children from developing a sense of loss.
You know what’s best for your children, but consider using the suggestions listed below as a baseline.
What Parents Should know
Children may have different reactions and feelings in response to a disaster. They may need
special attention from you.
The two most common signs of distress in children are changes in behavior and behavior
regression. A behavioral change is any unusual behavior he/she exhibits. For example, an
outgoing child may become very shy. When children demonstrate regressive behavior, they act
younger than they are, such as thumb-sucking or baby-talking.
Children may experience different reactions and feelings based on their age.
Speak your child’s language
o Children might not understand everything that’s going on, but they can pick up on your
worries. So explain things to your young children using works that they understand.
Don’t tell them any of the scary details though.
Let your child ask questions
o Letting your child ask questions and express their opinions is important. Answer all their
questions calmly and, again, don’t go into a lot of detail that might be scary or
traumatizing for them. Provide different opportunities for children to talk. They will
probably have more questions as time goes on.
Let your children know they are safe
o Tell them about policemen, firemen and other rescue personnel who are there to help
during a disaster, and not to be afraid of them.
Preparing Children For Disaster
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), involving children is the first step in
helping them know what to do in an emergency.
Children can help keep the family’s emergency supply kit up-to-date. They can make calendars and
mark the dates for checking emergency supplies, rotating the emergency food and water every six
months and replacing batteries.
Child might also enjoy preparing plans and disaster kits for their pets.
What Children Should Know
How to call 911 and other emergency numbers – and when it is OK to do so
Who to contact during/after a disaster if they cannot get in touch with you
Where your family will meet in case you are not together
Their first and last names, telephone number and address
Your first and last names
Activity Survival Kits
You can have your children put together their own “Activity Survival Kits” so that they will have things to
do and share with other kids. They can keep it in a backpack or duffle bag; make sure it’s not too heavy
for them to carry. Some suggested items include:
A few favorite books
Crayons, pencils or markers and paper
Scissors and glue
Two favorite toys like a doll or action figure
One or two board games
A deck of cards
Small figures and vehicles – like an ambulance, fire truck, etc. – to play out what is happening
during the exercise.
Favorite stuffed animal
Favorite blanket or pillow
Pictures of the family and pet
A box with a few treasures that make them feel special
Emergency Supply Kits For Children
Customize your emergency kit to meet your family’s basic survival needs for at least 72-96 hours.
Detailed lists of emergency supply kit contents can be at
Department of Homeland Security: www.ready.gov/american
In addition to the recommended items you’ll need in your family’s supply kit, you also have to think
about the special items you will need for your infants or young children.
Items for Infants
Formula (bottled water to mix formula), liquid formula, powdered milk, baby food
Clean bottles, pacifiers
Diapers, disposable wipes, diaper rash ointment, plastic bags
Clothing, jackets, socks AND shoes
Medications not requiring refrigeration, such as infant Tylenol®, Advil®, Benadryl®
Baby lotion, shampoo, soap and sunscreen
Items for Children
Books, board games, puzzles, dolls, action figures, stuffed animals
Portable DVD player, DVDs
Extra clothes and shoes
Mittens, scarf, jacket
Comfort food, hard candy, crackers, granola bars, dried fruit
Paper with home address, phone number and parents’ names (emergency contact card)
Small first-aid kit with bandages, children’s Tylenol®, Advil®, and Benadryl®
Pictures of the family and pet
Make sure that you replace formula, food, medications and creams in your infant’s or children’s
emergency kits every six months. Check the expiration dates.
School Emergency Plans
It may not be safe to pick up your child from school or daycare during a disaster. Know what your child’s
daycare or school’s emergency plan is.
Know the situations for which they stay in place or go somewhere else.
Find out if they are prepared to shelter-in-place (stay indoors until the emergency passes) and where
they plan to go if they must get away. Know how to contact them in an emergency.
Do they store enough food, water and other emergency supplies?
If you have children enrolled in daycare or school, you need to know what will happen if they experience
Lock-down because of an outside threat
Hazardous materials emergency
Water or heat loss
Bomb threat or receive a suspicious article or message
Missing child Relocation to another site
Questions to Ask
How will parents be notified in an emergency situation?
What is the evacuation process?
Do they have an emergency e-mail notification system?
Make sure the school and daycare have your current contact information, and know the best way to
reach you or other people authorized to pick up your child in case you can’t get there.
Information to Provide
Work, cell, home, pager and fax numbers
Authorization cards for other adults to pick up your child
Name of the person(s) permitted to contact your child if you can’t
Tell your child that if an emergency happens while they are at daycare/school that it is important for
them to stay calm and listen to their teachers.
If your child takes prescription medication, ask if several does may be stored in the nurse’s office and
about the procedure to ensure that your child will get his/her medication during an emergency.
Caring for infants during a disaster can be difficult because you might lack access to the safe drinking
water needed to prepare formula and to clean bottles. Other basic supplies might be hard to come by.
During a Disaster
Keep a copy of your baby’s medical and immunization records with you. Also have the contact
information for your health care providers. Infants should continue to receive their scheduled vaccines.
Several pacifiers and bottles
Diapers, disposable wipes, diaper rash ointment, plastic bags
Bibs, blankets, extra clothing
Baby lotion, shampoo, soap, sunscreen
Rectal thermometer and lubricant
Non-aspirin liquid pain reliever
Feeding During a Disaster
Breastfeeding is the best feeding option. Even when experiencing diarrhea, food-borne illness or
extreme stress, breastfeeding mothers will produce enough milk.
If the baby is formula-fed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the
following after a natural disaster or power outage:
Use ready-to-feed formula if possible.
Use bottled water to prepared powdered or liquid concentrated infant formula.
If bottled water is not available, use boiled water. Use treated water (treated with chlorine or
iodine to disinfect it per manufactures’ directions) to prepare infant formula only if bottled or
boiled water is not available.
After a Disaster
During emergencies, babies have a greater need for the immunizing qualities and comfort provided by
If you cannot breastfeed:
Pre-prepared formula is recommended because of concerns about water safety.
Have a supply of single-serving, ready-to-feed formula on-hand. Remember to throw away the
formula that the baby does not drink if you cannot refrigerate it.
For more information on breastfeeding during/after disasters, visit the La Leche League website:
Caring for an infant during an emergency situation can be very stressful. To help calm yourself:
Find someone to talk to a few times a day.
Find a quiet spot to clear your mind of worries.
Take deep breaths from your belly.
If you’re a woman, breastfeed. When you breastfeed, your body creates calming hormones.
If you’re pregnant, being prepared can help you avoid stress and put you in a better position to handle
Talk to your health care provider about:
o What you should do in any emergency.
o Where you will get prenatal care.
o Where you will deliver your baby if your hospital is closed.
Make a backup plan for getting to the hospital or health care center.
Pack any medication or prenatal vitamins you have been taking during the course of your
Keep your health insurance identification card with you.
If you’re staying in a shelter or in temporary housing:
Tell the staff at the shelter or temporary housing that you are pregnant or if you think you might
Continue your prenatal care – even with a different provider.
Tell the health care providers about any special needs or health problems that you have, as well
as any medicines you might be taking (both over-the-counter and prescription).
If you don’t have your prescription medicines with you, ask the shelter’s staff for assistance in
During and After a Disaster
Drink plenty of water and rest often.
Seek prenatal care, even if it is not with your usual provider.
If you don’t have your prescription medicines with you, ask the shelter’s staff for assistance in
If you are pregnant or might be pregnant, be especially careful to avoid infections or toxins that
may be in the environment. You can lessen the chance of getting an infection by washing your
hands often and encouraging others to cover their coughs.
Preparing for and recovering from a disaster can be stressful. You may be taking care of loved
ones, but it is especially important for pregnant women to find healthy ways to reduce the
stress they feel.
If you are feeling stressed or sad because of the disaster, talk to others and share your thoughts
and feelings. You are not alone.
If you have any signs of preterm labor, call your health care provider or 911, or go to the hospital
Children’s Reactions to Emergencies
Disasters can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure. Whether a child has personally
experienced trauma, has seen the event on television or has heard it discussed by adults, it is important
for parents and teachers to be informed and ready to help if reactions to stress occur.
Children may respond to disaster by showing fear, sadness or behavioral problems. Younger children
may display regressive behavior, such as bedwetting, sleep problems or separation anxiety. Older
children may display anger or aggression and experience school problems or withdrawal.
Who is at Risk?
For many children, reactions to disasters are brief and normal considering the “abnormal events.” A few
children can be at risk for more serious psychological problems if they have experienced one or more of
1. Direct exposure to the disaster, such as being evacuated, seeing injuries or deaths of others or
experiencing injury or fearing for their life.
2. The death or serious injury of a family member or friend.
3. Stress from the secondary effects of a disaster, such as temporarily living elsewhere and losing
friends and social networks.
Birth through Infants may react to trauma by being irritable, crying more than usually or wanting to
2 years be held and cuddled.
Preschool – 3 Preschool children often feel helpless and powerless during an overwhelming event.
through 6 As a result, they feel fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers.
years Preschoolers cannot understand the idea of permanent loss.
In the weeks following a traumatic event, preschoolers’ play activities may reenact the
incident or the disaster over and over again.
School age – 7 The school-age child has the ability to understand the permanence of loss. Some
through 10 children become intensely preoccupied with the details of a traumatic event and want
years to talk about it continually.
They may display a wide range of reactions: sadness, generalized fear or specific fears
of the disaster happening again, guilt over action or inaction during the disaster, anger
that the event was not prevented or fantasies of playing rescuer.
Pre-adoles- As children grow older, they develop a more sophisticated understanding of the
cence to disaster event. Their responses are more similar to adults.
11 through 18 Teenagers may become involved in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless
years driving, or alcohol or drug use. Others can become fearful of leaving home and avoid
previous levels of activities. A teenager may feel overwhelmed by intense emotions
and yet feel unable to discuss them with others.
Meeting the child’s emotional needs
Children’s reactions are influenced by the behavior, thoughts and feelings of adults. Adults should:
Encourage children and adolescents to share their thoughts and feelings about the incident.
Clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger by listening to children’s concerns and
Maintain a sense of calm by validating children’s concerns and perceptions, and with discussion
of concrete plans for safety.
Listen to what the child is saying. If a young child is asking questions about the event, answer them
simply without going into the detail needed for an older child or adult. Some children are comforted by
knowing more or less information than others; decide what level of information your particular child
needs. If a child has difficulty expressing feelings, allow the child to draw a picture or tell a story of what
Why are they scared?
Try to understand what is causing anxieties and fears. Be aware that following a disaster, children are
most afraid that:
The event will happen again.
Someone close to them will be killed or injured.
They will be left alone or separated from their family.
Reassuring Children After a Disaster
Personal contact is reassuring. Hug your children.
Calmly provide factual information about the recent disaster and current plans for ensuring their
safety. Include them in the recovery plans.
Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
Spend extra time with your children, such as at bedtime.
Reestablish your daily routine for work, school, play, meals and rest.
Involve your children by giving them specific chores to encourage them to feel they are helping
to restore family and community life.
Praise and recognize responsible behavior.
Understand that your children will have a range of reactions to disasters.
Encourage your children to help update your family disaster plan.
If you have tried to create a reassuring environment by following the steps above, but your child
continues to show signs of stress, if the reactions worsen over time or if they cause interference with
daily behavior at schools, at home or with other relationships, you may need to talk to a professional.
You can get professional help from the child’s primary care physician, a mental health provider
specializing in children’s needs or a member of the clergy.
Transitioning to a New School
Depending on how serious the disaster was, it is common for families to be moved away (displaced)
from their homes for a period of time. When this is the case, it is important for children to experience
some degree of normalcy by going back to their regular school-day routine as soon as possible.
The importance of school after a disaster
After a disaster, school is more than just about learning. It’s a place where children can feel safe, play
with friends and return to how life was before the disaster. It can provide them with a sense of comfort
and stability during time of transition.
School is also a place where parents can find support and get information on their new community, if
they’ve been displaced.
What if we’ve been displaced to a different community?
No matter where you’re staying for the time being, your children can be enrolled in school.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act states that children and youth who are living in
temporary housing can go to school. This includes public preschools.
Every district has a Local Homeless Education Liaison (also known as a McKinney-Vento Project
Coordinator) who can help enroll your children.
A staff member at the school can put you in touch with a Project Coordinator or you can call the
National Center for Homeless Education at 1-800-308-2145.
Helping Children adjust to relocation
Relocating after a disaster creates unique challenges for the children in any family. Children are
impacted by the reactions of their parents and other family members, how long they have to relocate
and their ability to stay in touch with friends and other familiar people.
To help your child(ren) cope with your family’s relocation, you should:
Give your child the opportunity to meet new friends.
Bring along personal items that your child values.
Establish some daily routines (like returning to school as soon as possible).
Be sensitive to the disruption that relocation may cause and respond to your child’s
Encourage your child to talk about his/her concerns and fears.
The ways children cope with disasters or emergencies are often tied to the ways their parents cope.
They can pick up on adults’ fears and sadness. Parents are always the best source of support for
children in disasters. Parents can make disasters less traumatic for children by taking steps to manage
their own feeling and plans for coping.
Easing Disaster-Related Stress
Here are some ways to ease your disaster-related stress:
Talk with someone about your feelings – anger, sorrow and other emotions – even though it
may be difficult.
Get help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you
cannot help directly in the rescue work.
Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest,
exercise, relaxation and medication.
Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and
Spend time with family and friends.
Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your disaster supply kits and updating your
family disaster plan.
Doing these positive actions can be comforting.
Use Support Networks
Parents help their children when they take steps to understand and manage their own feelings and ways
of coping. They can do this by building and using social support systems of family, friends, community
organizations and agencies, faith-based institutions, or other resources that work for that family. As a
result, parents will be more available to their children and better able to support them.
Preparing for disaster helps everyone in the family accept the fact that disasters do happen, and gives
you the chance to collect the resources you need to meet your basic needs after a disaster. Preparation
helps: When people feel prepared the cope better – and so do children.
You and your family are not alone when disaster strikes. Refer to the following resources for additional
information and support
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Emergency Preparedness and Response
American Red Cross
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) 1-800-308-2145
Disclaimer: The information provided above is derived from original Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) material and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The text is an edited and abridged version of
multiple disaster recovery publications.
Ogle County Emergency Management Agency is not liable for any accidents, injuries, material or
moral damages that may occur from using the information contained in this above information, or
from any omissions in disaster recovery information.