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Health Tips for Parents

2006 Issues

How can I help my child prepare for an emergency?

In the wake of natural disasters that have pummeled areas of the world in recent months, parents should make sure their children know what to expect during an emergency.

Talking concretely about disasters and helping children prepare to react to one can help to make them feel safer, says Larry Baraff, M.D., chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. “Children see images on TV and become aware of the possibility of danger,” he says. “They’re more sophisticated than many parents think, and can be trusted to learn how to navigate a disaster.”
Parents can take steps to plan for an emergency by:
• Preparing children for the possibility that they will be separated from their parents during an emergency. Teach children how to take care of themselves and to seek help until the family is reunited.
• Creating a disaster plan. Stock up on food, water and emergency supplies. Have a family communication plan in place, and make sure everyone knows how to shut off gas, water and electricity in their home. These procedures should be discussed as a family and reinforced regularly.

Discuss possible scenarios
Use concrete examples when talking with children about emergency preparedness. For example, when describing the potential aftermath of an earthquake, discuss the possibility that roads may be damaged or closed, making it impossible for parents to return home or to school right away, or that electricity and phone service may be disrupted.

Communication plan
Separation from a parent during a disaster can be a distressing concept for children. Discuss as a family supplies and resources needed as part of an overall family disaster plan. Identify a neighbor with whom a child can stay during an emergency. All family members should have the phone number of an out-of-town contact to communicate through in case local telephone service is disrupted. Include these telephone numbers, as well as any special medical information, on an identification card that the child keeps in a wallet or school backpack.

School emergency plans
Schools spend a great amount of time and energy devising emergency plans to help keep children safe during a disaster. Most schools have a designated offsite location where students can go following an evacuation, and may have a telephone hotline for parents to get the most upto- date news. Some schools ask that parents provide emergency supplies – including food – for their child. Pay close attention to the school’s emergency policies.

Family checklist
• Map out escape routes from each room in the house.
• Stock enough emergency supplies to last seven days.
• Test smoke alarms every month and change batteries regularly.
• Keep a three-day supply per person of water and non-perishable food items.
• Identify the main electric fuse box or circuit breaker, water-service and gas-service lines and learn how to shut them off properly.
• Keep a wrench, flashlight and battery-powered radio handy.

Finally, teach children the basics of handling an emergency. “Any child who can use the phone should be able to call 9-1-1,” says Dr. Baraff. “Make sure children know the names of any medications they take, their home phone number and their parents’ cell phone numbers, or keep that information on them at all times.”

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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