Prepping Kids Matters

An Oncoming Storm

I knew this weekend we could expect a severe thunderstorm.  I was ready for it:

  • I have at least 3 days of food and water for my family
  • I have a first aid kit, and I know CPR/First Aid
  • I have a weather radio, and flash lights in case the power goes out

I was up at 8:30, and checked the weather.  The forecast said we could expect severe thunderstorms around the afternoon.

Normally, Sunday is the day that I do laundry and other housekeeping.  I realized that if the power does go out, I will not be able to do laundry, so I got an early start.

I was feeling pretty good about myself for being proactive.  Not having clean laundry is not a disaster, but it is certainly demoralizing. With thunderstorms, we often lose power, and I wanted to get as much done before that happened.

As I got a head start on my house cleaning, I noticed it got darker outside. At 10:00 am, it looked more like night than day, and the sky had a swampy green hue (a danger sign for tornadoes). The wind started picking up, and I heard an odd crackling thunder in the distance (I am no stranger to thunder/lightning…this sounded different).  The storm came earlier than I expected. My NOAA weather radio rang out with a tornado warning alert: “Take cover now”.

I put down the laundry.  Calmly, I woke up my kids.  “Tornado warning” I said.  I told them to grab their blanket, and come to the living room.  Since I have already established a tornado plan with them, they know the drill.  I switched on my HAM radio to the NOAA weather frequency (same as the weather radio, I’m practicing with my HAM radio).

By the time they got to the living room, the tornado warning was cancelled.  It passed that fast.  My son joked that he woke up “for nothing”, and I reminded him to be thankful it was for nothing.  Things could have gone rather differently if a tornado passed over us.

Tornado Warnings in Red
Radar snapshot.  Areas in red are tornado warnings

Play the “What If” Game

Since they were up, and we were all huddled together, I used this as a teaching opportunity.  I posed several “what if” scenarios, and asked what would they do.  “What if I am at work when a tornado happens?”  “What if the apartment is unsafe, and you must leave?  How will I find you?”  We have talked about this before, and I was surprised when my son gave answers that he came up with on his own….things we have not talked about.

We live walking distance to 3 schools, so the obvious answer is that if home is unsafe, go to a school.  But when I asked him where he would go if home is destroyed or unsafe, here is how he answered:

Him: “I would go to the grocery store” (which is a block away)

Me: I was surprised at this answer, and said “why not the school?”

Him: “The doors will be locked”

I explained that in a disaster, the schools are opened as shelters, and would be the best place for him to go.  Since I volunteer with CERT, I explained how the community will get organized to deal with the disaster, and that would be the best place for him to go.  If he is wandering around, he may expose himself to secondary disasters from debris, downed  power lines, flash floods, etc, and that he would not be safe.  Furthermore, if he is alone and gets himself in trouble, there will be no one there to help him.

I realize how important it is to continually and periodically practice drills, and revisit the plan often, because while it is clear to me, it may not be clear to them.

As I was walking my son through the “what if” scenarios, I asked him “What if the streets are covered with debris?”  His answer:  climb over it.  No!  There could be so many dangers with that (puncture wounds, falling, and downed power lines to name a few). “Ok, then, I would cross over the creek.”  No! With the storm, there could be risk of flash flooding, dangerous debris hidden under the water, or downed power lines nearby.  These dangers don’t reveal themselves until it’s too late. So crossing through the creek is not an option.

It was good that we were going through this mental exercise, because it was making him think critically about the situation.  He walks to school every day, but after a disaster, it would be entirely different.  It is far better to go through this critical thinking process when he is well rested, well fed, and calm, rather than in a disaster where he may be scared, panicked, distraught, and just not thinking clearly.

Delusional Ideas About Surviving

Going through this exercise was good for me, because I learned something about my son.  He is a teenager, and likes to play video games.  He likes games and movies that involve being the hero, or “toughing it out” in extreme survival situations.  Perhaps these movies and games primed his mind towards a fantasy notion about surviving a disaster.  He envisions himself performing gymnastics, and “beating the odds” like the heroes in his games, but real life does not work that way. Often with surviving, the best solution is the least dramatic one.

I won’t go into how entertainment might give kids the wrong idea of what surviving is about, but I do offer this caution:  This is why it’s so important for us to talk to our kids about this stuff.  My son may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors because it is the “brave” thing to do, rather than making the safe choice which will keep him alive.

Even with survivor shows, we see these so called “experts” taking unnecessary risks in the name of survival.  That’s done for entertainment value.  If they showed what it is really like (sitting by a campfire hours on end, bored to tears), nobody would watch it, and there would be no show.

I offer this as a word of caution.  This is only my experience with my kid, and I am not suggesting that all kids share this survival fantasy, but if mine does, I suspect others do also.  Another reason to talk to our kids.

Safety is Number One

Our conclusion was that the school only makes sense if he can get to it safely.  Although the school makes the most sense, if he can’t safely get to it, he needs to find the next best thing..  Maybe in the end, the grocery store is the safest place to go.  So while we do have a plan in place, we have to make decisions based on the circumstances.  In the end, it all comes down to safety.

It’s a scary thought to think of my kids being on their own in a disaster.  But I have greater peace of mind after I have had these kinds of talks with them, and gone through some exercises.  I feel better knowing that they know what to do.

Make It Fun

There are some great resources to help with teaching your kids about disasters.  is a website designed to teach kids how about the common disasters for their area.  They even have an interactive game called “Disaster Master”.  Older kids might think it’s lame, but it is a good starting point, and it gets the point across.  My son said he prefers a live, hands on “simulation” experience.  So I may surprise him with a disaster drill in the middle of the night one day!

I think the key to teaching kids is to keep it fun.  If they see it as another chore or duty, they will be less receptive to hearing what you have to say.  Emphasize the importance of the matter, and that they may save lives one day by what they learn.  But mostly, this should be a bonding activity, and not something they come to dread.

Get Them Involved

One of the best ways to teach something is to make them responsible for it.  The more involved they are, the more they will learn. My daughter learned a lot about nutrition and meal planning when I put her in charge of meals for a week.  While meal planning is not rocket science, she quickly realized how much work goes into it, and how much there is to consider.

Depending on their age, assign them something to be responsible for. For example, if you live in an area where you may need to be evacuated (wildfires, hurricanes), everyone can be responsible for their evacuation pack (often called a “bug out bag”  or “BOB”.  These can be kept in their closet, or under the bed.

You provide them with a checklist of items that needs to be in that bag at all times (change of clothes, water bottle,  etc.) Periodically, call the family to a meeting with their bags, and do an inspection.  Put someone in charge of a “family” bag that has copies of important documents (insurance, birth certificates, Social Security Cards, etc.) as well as a first aid kit, and other items your family might need if you had to suddenly evacuate.

Let Them Take Charge

They say the best way to master something, is to teach it.  As you practice drills, and it becomes clear that they understand, put a child in charge of running the drill for the family.  Let the student become the master.

Being in charge is an eye opening experience because they are not mindlessly going through the motions. They have to think about it.  This takes the experience to a whole new level.

Also, it may be the case one day where the child is the one in charge in an actual emergency.  How many times have you heard stories where an adult was unconscious, and a 5 year old called 911?  Someone taught them that.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Kids practice fire drills at school several times a year.  They don’t stop after a certain grade level, and say “well, seniors don’t have to do the drills, because they already know”.  No, we practice regardless, because in an emergency, we will be panicked and forget what we “know”, but we will not forget what is a habit.

If we are in the habit of grabbing an emergency pack from under our bed during evacuation drills, we won’t have to stop and think about where it is kept when the time comes.

If we are in the habit of watching the weather for warning signs, we won’t be caught off guard when the alert comes on to “take cover”.  We will already be ready.

If we are in the habit of going through the thought process (like in the “what if” game), we will already have the right answers in our head when faced with that situation.

This kind of automatic reaction only comes with repeated practice.

Don’t Procrastinate

One of my favorite prepping quotes is from Cody Lundin’s book When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes. He says “It’s too late to read the book on how to swim when the boat’s going down”.  That is the essence of prepping.  It is too late for me to try and teach my kids how to respond to a disaster when the disaster has already hit.  I may find myself unable to lead them, and they may find themselves on their own.  That is a horrifying thought.  The only way I can give myself peace of mind about it is to teach them now.