When the power goes out and the cell towers go down, do you have a plan? Do your kids and your ex know what that plan is?
Since disaster doesn’t just strike on alternate weekends, it’s important that you take into account both households when you’re a divorced parent. In honor of September, National Preparedness Month, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to develop a customized plan in the event of a disaster.
Set aside past feelings and connect with your ex.
You fought over who got the widescreen TV; how are you possibly going to agree on where to go and what to do in a crisis? It’s time to set aside your differences and put your children, and safety, first. You will need to communicate during a disaster, and reaching out to prepare for one is a logical first step. Navigate your situation however it is most effective and set up that important first meeting or call to discuss the plan.
Consider your blended/mixed family’s specific needs.
The ages of your children will determine how much assistance they will need, and how much responsibility they may bear. If family members have medical needs, disabilities, or even special dietary restrictions, that has to be taken into account. Pets also need to be accommodated. List each member of your family—human and animal—and any specific needs they may have.
Determine the responsible party.
Children who are in school or daycare will need to be picked up in the event of a disaster. Pets may need to be secured or transported. Designate a responsible party to pick up children and one who will manage pets. It doesn’t have to be you or your ex, but it’s best to choose a trusted individual known to your family. Make sure that the individual is on the approved pick-up list at school or daycare, and has signed up for alerts. Also, make sure that your child knows who is allowed to pick him/her up.
Create an emergency communications plan.
The power may go out; the cell towers may be down. You may not have access to important information during a disaster. That’s why it’s important to create an In Case of Emergency (ICE) card.
- List contact information for each member of both families, caregivers, and any other individuals involved in the disaster plan. This includes work phone, home phone, and cell phone numbers.
- Choose an out-of-state contact to call in the event that your state’s phones and resources are down. That person can act as a main point of contact if you can’t reach each other.
- Starting at about age 5, children can learn a phone number. Teach your child one parent’s cell phone number. Try it as a song to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
- Make sure your older children know your cell phone numbers, and don’t just press “mom” or “dad” on their phones.
- If cell phone service is down, advise your children to follow the guidance of trusted adults such as teachers, school administrators, and caregivers. Reassure them that you will be with them as soon as possible.
- Consider a prepaid phone card for use in an emergency.
Choose an emergency meeting place.
Depending upon the emergency, your home may not be the safest place to take shelter. If that is the case, you will want to choose a place in your neighborhood to meet. The local park, the school, the library, or your place of worship are all familiar and trusted options. If you are able to meet at home, make that the first choice—but be sure to determine whose home it is.
Pack a grab-and-go bag or emergency kit.
If you have to leave suddenly, there’s little time to pack. Having a grab-and-go bag or an emergency kit helps make sure you have everything you need. Pack a bag for every member of your family, including your pets. Include supplies for 3 days: a change of clothes, food, water, medications, hand sanitizer, blankets, etc. You will want a bag at each household, as you don’t know where the children will be when disaster strikes. Also, since children grow, and needs change, make sure you check your emergency kits every three months and update them as needed.
The type of disaster matters.
Severe weather is not the same as an earthquake or a fire. Have a plan for the different types of disasters that may affect your area. For example:
- In a hurricane, tornado, or high-wind storm, stay inside your home. Choose a small, interior room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet, on the first level.
- In a fire or evacuation, you may need to leave your home suddenly. If you need to meet, choose a spot in your neighborhood such as a playground, a big tree, or distinctive mailbox.
- In the event of an emergency, make sure the lines of communication are open between you and your ex. Have a plan in place to notify that the children are safe.
Practice, practice, practice.
Make an ICE card with the basics of the plan (including contacts) that can be kept in each adult’s wallet. Include a copy in your school-age child’s backpack. Then, schedule some time to practice the plan with your children. Practice different kinds of emergencies with each parent.
There’s an app for that.
There also are apps that you can use to prepare for an emergency. FEMA offers interactive checklists and emergency safety tips. The Red Cross provides apps specific to hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes. Plus, the government has some great resources for disaster planning, including games kids can play to get ready.
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