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How to Prepare Your Family for the Inevitable Natural Disaster

Natural disasters are less rare than we think. Is your family prepared?

We like to think that disasters are rare, but in reality, they are plentiful, killing an average of 60,000 people each year. From hurricanes to wildfires to floods and freezes, natural disasters cause not only hundreds of billions of dollars in damage but also unspeakable amounts of pain in loss of life. You can’t be prepared for all aspects of a given disaster. But having the right supplies at home and the mindset to deal with crises save lives or, more simply, make survival more bearable.

Check Freedman and Billy Jensen know just this. The two have been preparing their whole lives to… survive. Freedman and Jensen are the directors of operations and founder/CEO of survival and safety training company Captive Audience, respectively. Freedman has been a survival instructor since 2013 and has written several books on the subject. Jensen spent 26 years in the Army, 15 of those in Special Forces, and is a hostage negotiator. Both are graduates of the military Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training program, and they’re co-authors of the upcoming book Survival Ready: Life-Saving Skills and Expert Advice for Surviving Any Threat at Any Time. But you don’t need as much preparation as these two survivalists to get through a crisis.

If you’ve never thought about disaster prep, their advice may seem overwhelming. There’s a lot you need to do to be safe. But ignoring the possibility of a crisis because you’re afraid of facing it head-on only means you’ll be blindsided when it does strike. So take a deep breath, and let’s take it step-by-step.

Packing For the Kids

Parents “will want a place for their kids to burn off energy, blow off steam, and be entertained,” Freedman says. What does this mean? “Keep lots o” games, toys, books, coloring books, and outlets for play. Make your kids’ lives go on as smoothly and uninterrupted as possible for your own well-being. Because you will be the one pulling your hair out when the kid is in a bad mood or cries all the time or has a temper tantrum because they don’t understand what’s going on.”

Packing With the Kids

But you shouldn’t just prepare to entertain the kids; you should prepare them to be fluid in an emergency. This means bringing them into your planning. “Include the child in as much of the preparation as possible, and in as much of the disaster management as possible,” Freedman says. “If you’re without power and you realize that you’re going to have to take your camp stove outside to make dinner for the family, get the kid involved. Ask the kids to help you collect firewood, show them how to build a fire, ask them to participate in what you’re doing. Kids have morale too, and they need to be useful. They need to feel like they’re contributing to the situation.”

Parenting In a Disaster

A kid acting up is rarely a life or death situation. But in a twister or hurricane, flood or wildfire? It very well could be. “We’re both hostage negotiators, and hostage negotiation skills are something that I think everybody should know,” says Freedman. “It’s nothing but a de-escalation of somebody’s runaway emotions. Oftentimes, you’ll see the dynamic between parents and children, where the children are too young to truly be reasoned with, but their emotions are running away with them. There are techniques that you can use to bring someone from a non-compliant and combative state into an understanding compliance using what’s called emotional lowering.

“Emotional lowering is where you recognize the person is in distress, and you put a label on it. You say to them, ‘You seem upset, you look angry, you sound sad.’ Give them a chance to comment on that. Give them a chance to say, ‘No, I’m not angry. I’m just frustrated.’ Or. ‘Yes, I am sad, and I’m not dealing with it very well.’ Pointing it out to them shows that you cared enough to notice. Beyond noticing, you cared enough to speak up and say something.

“Once we have that dialogue started, practice active listening. Let them tell you what’s wrong. Let them tell you why they are in such a negative emotional state. Don’t judge, regardless of what you think or feel. Don’t let any judgment come out of your mouth. Don’t let a judgmental look cross your face. Don’t strike a judgmental pose with your body language. Simply listen, hear them out, let them tell you what’s wrong. Then, see how you can approach it together. See if there’s anything you can do to help resolve that situation. A kid might be scared because they understand that the world is not as it should be, but they don’t understand how and why. All they know is that life feels very tense, and it’s getting to them. Maybe shift the focus from the problem onto building morale and relaxation and entertainment. The kid may be sad because it’s been too long since the last meal and mom and dad are rationing and the snacks went away. The solution may be something as simple as giving them food to eat.

“After all, kids have a good reason to be upset. The source of their non-compliance is the fact that their world has been turned upside down and they don’t understand why or how. So hear them out without judgment, be patient, keep your own temper in check, listen to what they’re telling you about why they’re upset, and then address that together.” Because a family that is truly prepared for a crisis also knows how to parent in one.

Pre-Packing a Go-Bag

You don’t have to collect the materials above all at once. Jensen recommends starting with the supplies you’ll need to survive 72 hours, including food, water, and medical supplies. When you collect those, pack them up with clothes, cash, and a tent. Have it ready in a bag that you can grab quickly if you need to evacuate, such as in the case of a fire or hurricane. You won’t always have enough warning to pack all these supplies at the last moment.

Developing the Skills You Need to Survive

  • Know where hospitals, emergency shelters, and evacuation routes are in your community. Be able to access them without a GPS.
  • Look up the most common types of natural disasters in your area, and know the specifics of how to respond to them.
  • All that new stuff you just bought, like the camp stove and hand-crank radio? Use them at least once before packing them away so you know you can handle them in the case of a disaster.
  • Similarly, taste-test the food you’re storing. Make sure you and your family actually enjoy it.
  • Take a first aid class.
  • If you live in a rural area, learn how to use a ham radio.

Shopping for a Disaster, Before It Happens

Every family should have quick access to all of the following in order to more comfortably live through a disaster.

  • Non-perishable Food: As much as you can reasonably store. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Spices will add to your quality of life.
  • Water: You have two options. 1) Store as much water as you can in water bottles. 2) If you have reliable access to a water source such as a well or stream, make sure you have a way to treat it, like with a filtration system or purification tablets.
  • Medical Supplies: A robust medical kit with everything you could need if a person gets injured in a natural disaster and can’t reach the hospital. This includes materials such as tourniquets, supplies to clean wounds, and pressure dressings to stop bleeding. If you take prescription medicine, try to keep a back-up store. Stock up on common over-the-counter medicines.
  • Lighting: Candles and/or flashlights to see after dark.
  • Cooking Method: You can cook over a fireplace if you have one, but make sure you have a stockpile of wood. If you don’t, a camp stove is a must.
  • Radios: Keep at least one hand-crank radio in the house so you can tune into the news. If you live in a rural area, a ham radio will allow you to communicate if phones go down, but you will need training on how to work it.
  • Diapers: They go quickly. If your kid needs them, have a supply.
  • Bicycles: You may not be able to use cars as transportation, so have a bike for each person to get around.
  • $300 cash: In case ATMs go down.
  • Clothes and Sleeping Bags: Stay warm in cold temperatures. Keep everyone in the same room to capitalize on body heat.
  • Cooling Mechanisms: Stay cool in hot temperatures with hand fans and chemical ice packs, and by putting water on your skin.
  • Back-up Generator: They can be expensive and can draw unwanted attention to your home. They may be best for families in rural areas.
  • Entertainment: Ways to keep your mind busy that don’t involve electricity, such as board games, cards, puzzles, and books.
  • Tools: Keep enough tools to be able to fix any supplies that break during the disaster.
  • Call Phone Charger Backup: Options include a portable power bank and solar charger.
  • Pet Supplies: If you have a pet, keep a store of food and medications for them.