Vulnerable Populations: Children

Children depend on daily routines. They wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, play with friends. When emergencies or disasters interrupt this routine, many children may become anxious.

In a disaster, they’ll look to you and other adults for help. How you react to an emergency gives them clues on how to act. If you react with alarm, your child may become more scared. They see your fear as proof that the danger is real. If you seem overcome with a sense of loss, your child may feel their losses more strongly. Children’s fears may also arise from their imagination, and you should take these feelings seriously. A child who feels afraid is afraid. Your words and actions can provide reassurance. When talking with your child, be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable.

Feelings of fear are healthy and natural for both adults and children. But as an adult, you need to keep control of the situation. When you’re sure that danger has passed, concentrate on your child’s emotional needs by asking the child what’s uppermost in his or her mind. Having children participate in the family’s recovery activities will help them feel that their life will soon return to "normal."

Your response during a time of emergency may have a lasting impact. The best thing you can do as a parent is to prepare ahead of time to minimize the potential impact on your children.

Consider the following...

  • Where will you or your family be when a disaster strikes?
  • At work, at school or in the car?
  • How will you find each other?
  • Will you know if your children are safe?



  • Meet with your family members. Review the information you've gathered about community hazards and plans. Explain the dangers to children and work with them as a team to prepare your family. Be sure to include caregivers in your meeting and planning efforts.
  • Choose an "Out-of-Town" Contact. Ask an out-of-town friend or relative to be your contact. Following a disaster, family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know the contact’s phone numbers. After a disaster, it is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call from a disaster area.
  • Decide Where to Meet. In the event of an emergency, you may become separated from family members. Choose a place right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire. Choose a location outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home.
  • Complete a Family Communication Plan. Your plan should include contact information for family members, work and school. Your plan should also include information for your out-of-town contact, meeting locations, emergency services and the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222). A sample form for recording this information can be found at - or at These websites also provide blank wallet cards on which contact information can be recorded and carried in a wallet, purse, backpack, etc., for quick reference. Teach your children how to call the emergency phone numbers and when it is appropriate to do so. Be sure each family member has a copy of your communication plan and post it near your telephone for use in an emergency.
  • Escape Routes and Safe Places. In a fire or other emergency, you may need to evacuate on a moment’s notice. Be ready to get out fast. Be sure everyone in your family knows the best escape routes out of your home as well as where the safe places are in your home for each type of disaster (i.e., if a tornado approaches, go to the basement or the lowest floor of your home or an interior room or closet with no windows).
  • Use a blank sheet of paper to draw floor plans of your home. Show the location of doors, windows, stairways, large furniture, your disaster supplies kit, fire extinguisher, smoke alarms, collapsible ladders, first-aid kits, and utility shut-off points. Show important points outside such as garages, patios, stairways, elevators, driveways, and porches. See illustration below. Indicate at least two escape routes from each room, and mark a place outside of the home where household members should meet in case of fire. If you or someone in your household uses a wheelchair, make all exits from your home wheelchair accessible. Practice emergency evacuation drills at least two times a year, but as often as you update your escape plan.