Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, or hurricanes, can affect children differently than they do adults. Disasters cause an extreme amount of stress for anyone but children have unique needs. According to the CDC:
Children’s bodies are smaller and more vulnerable than an adult’s.
• Children are more likely to get sick or severely injured in a disaster.
• They breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults do and therefore will breathe in more toxins or debris.
• They have thinner skin that is more easily hurt.
• Since children have less fluid in their bodies, fluid loss (such as dehydration or blood loss) will have a more significant effect on their health.
• They are more likely to lose body heat.
In an emergency, children need help from adults.
• Children may not know how to react, so older children may look to adults for cues. Younger children may scream or cry.
• Some children may not be able to explain where or how they are hurt.
• Children cannot make medical decisions for themselves and will need an adult to get medical treatment.
Disasters can be more stressful for children.
• Children may feel out of control.
• They do not understand the situation.
• They have less practice recovering from difficult experiences.
If you have young children, one of the most important things that you can do to keep your family safe in a disaster is to make a plan. Planning for a disaster means knowing what to do in each possible situation.
Prepare: Before creating your disaster plan, it’s important to know what types of emergencies are likely in your area and the best way to respond. Different events may require different strategies. You can find more information about tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes on our website. If you are pregnant or have a young infant, these factsheets will help you understand your unique needs and prepare for an unexpected event.
Talk: Spend time with your family discussing natural events that may occur in your area. Use simple words that even very young children can understand.
Practice: Practice your family evacuation plan so that during an emergency you can leave quickly and safely. Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster. For example, during an earthquake you would want to practice “drop, cover, and hold on” under a sturdy desk or table. During a tornado, you would want to seek shelter in a lower level room without windows.
Respond: Stay as calm as you can, since your reaction is likely to influence how your child responds. If you need to go to a shelter, bring any medications you or your children need. Also, bring small toys that will make them feel at home.
Recover: If appropriate, let children help in clean-up and recovery efforts. This can help to increase their sense of control. Try to get back into normal routines as soon as you can.
Ready.gov has a lot of information that can help you make an emergency preparedness plan. And if you have a baby or child with special needs, make sure you read our post Preparing for disasters when you have a child with special needs.
Questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.