The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a near-normal 2018 Atlantic hurricane season: the formation of 10-16 named storms, with 5-9 becoming hurricanes (1-4 of these potentially becoming major hurricanes). For the past 10 years, the New York City (NYC) Emergency Management Department has been educating children in NYC schools through the Ready New York Kids Program. Each presentation focuses on three key messages: make a plan, get supplies, and prepare a Go Bag.
For the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA predicted 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes – six of which became major hurricanes. These included Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which made landfall on the continental United States, and Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico. Whether an above, below, or average season, the unprecedented events of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are reminders that every storm should be taken seriously. While each household should have an emergency plan, emergency preparedness education in public schools is important now more than ever.
Preparing Children for Emergencies
In a recent survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, only four of every ten adults said they created an emergency communication plan with members of their households, leaving many families unprepared for the next hurricane. An emergency plan helps families stay in contact before, during, and after emergencies and is a vital tool in keeping families together. As the frequency of intense weather continues to increase, a fundamental shift in public education is necessary to adequately prepare the public for future emergencies. A major part of that education begins with children, who are particularly vulnerable during emergencies due to their dependency on parents and guardians.
According to The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, weather extremes resulting from climate change will affect 175 million children per year over the next ten years. Research also shows that adults with school-aged children are more likely to create an emergency plan than those with no children or older children. It is important to equip children with the skills to keep them safe because, when they are prepared, the entire family is prepared. Simple strategies such as designating meeting places or writing down contact numbers can contribute to keeping families together.
Make A Plan
One of the fundamentals to making a plan is knowing how to communicate before, during, and after an emergency. Each person should have at least two emergency phone numbers – one local and one out-of-state – written down in an accessible location. Having parents review this with their children is important: practice dialing the phone numbers with the children, and ensure the children know who they are calling and when they should give this number to an adult to place the call. In a world reliant on cellphones, it is important to have extra cellphone batteries and portable chargers ready and charged before a storm to keep phones running.
When addressing school-aged children, encourage them to discuss family meeting locations in the event of an emergency with members of their families. It is important to stress the need for at least two meeting locations. Although some emergencies, such as fires, may lend to family members meeting at a local park immediately across the street from their home, other emergencies, such as flooding, may require a meeting location outside the affected area.
Stocking supplies that may be needed after a hurricane has passed is also imperative. For example, during Hurricane Irma in 2017, families whose homes were not directly impacted by the storm were still affected afterward: an inability to access food and water due to power outages; and impassable roads caused by flooding or downed trees. Families should have up to one week of supplies, including water, nonperishable foods, flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, extra medicine, extra cellphone batteries, and pet food.
Pack a Go Bag
When a town or city issues an evacuation order, it is critical for residents to follow it. To prepare for such circumstances, children should have and be a part of packing a Go Bag – that is, a collection of items in one location (usually a backpack or a small suitcase on wheels) that is easy to carry in the event of an emergency when rapidly evacuating a home. Go Bags should contain the following important items: copies of important documents such as birth certificates, photo identification, copies of credit/debit cards, cash in small bills, water, flashlights, batteries, toiletries, and a first aid kit. Each member of the family should have their own Go Bag personalized to their distinct needs. When packing a child’s Go Bag, some additional items to include are:
- Parent information and cellphone numbers in case they are separated from their children;
- Any childcare supplies needed (such as diapers, wipes, cups, etc.); and
- Games and small toys to keep children occupied, such as coloring books and puzzles.
To date, NYC Emergency Management staff have visited 820 schools, conducted 1,500 workshops and assemblies, and trained more than 200,000 students. It is important to teach children about what to do in case of an emergency. Preparing items, writing down phone numbers, and practicing a plan can make the difference in keeping communities safe this hurricane season and in the years to come.
As part of preparing kids for the next emergency, New York City Emergency Management distributes Ready New York Guides, designed specifically for kids, to schools and organizations. The guides offer an interactive and fun-filled way to get kids involved in creating their own emergency plan. These guides are available – for parents and teachers – in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian, as well as in audio format. To learn more about the Ready NY Kids Program, visit Ready NY.