Pictured from left to right: The “Macho Nachos” team, Nicole Olsen-Garcia, RN, London May, RN (with back to camera), Alex Cardenas, RN, Eileen Duncan, RN compete in Childrens Hospital's "Disaster Olympix."
If you really want to be ready for the next major disaster to hit your area, throw a block party. Or maybe play a few games with the kids.
“Preparedness does not have to be boring or scary. You can have fun with it,” insists Jeffrey Upperman, M.D., director of the trauma program at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. This month, the hospital held a fun event of its own called “The Disaster Olympix, and debuted a new disaster response video game called “Surge World,” where healthcare workers help move patients through a hospital facing emergency overload.
One of the lessons from the event, where hospital staff competed in a series of disaster drills, was that simple things matter. And the same is true for families.
How well do you know the people around you?
“It’s important to know your neighborhood,” says Upperman. “What’s it going to look like if the so-called ‘Big One’ hits?” Many of us would need to weather the aftermath of a disaster at home – and we might need to rely on neighbors for help and resources. Who in your neighborhood has first-aid training? Who is handy with tools? Is there a family who could help care for your children if you couldn’t?
If you aren’t sure, Upperman suggests that a block party to “get everyone out of their house” and bring neighbors together might be a good way to find out. When people know each other, or have at least met, they’re more likely to work together and help each other out. But don’t talk disasters right away. Start with the fun, get to know each other, and organize later.
What is the plan at your child’s school?
Pictured from left to right: The “NICCU Babes” team, Jessica Legge, RN, Rebecca Bomberger, RN, April Brewer-Salvosa, RN.
One of the events in CHLA’s “Disaster Olympix” was the evacuation of a mock NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), and one of the issues that came up was what to do when family members arrived to pick up babies deemed ready to go home. Procedures needed to be followed to ensure that babies were only released to authorized family members.
Upperman points out that schools – one of the places your child is most likely to be when a disaster occurs – also have plans to make sure students are only released to their families. Ask about the plan at your child’s school. Find out where you should report to pick up your child in an emergency, and what types of identification and permissions are required before the school will release your child.
It can help to “buddy up” with another family in your child’s class, so that you can back each other up if one of you can’t make it to school. Authorize the parents to pick up your child if needed, and vice-versa, and let your kids know that they should stay together in an emergency.
How will you stay in touch?
One major area of emphasis at “The Disaster Olympix” was communication, and ways to get information where it needed to go. “You have to think about unique ways to communicate when you’re facing a crisis,” says Upperman. “The same thing matters for families.” Yes, cell phones are great and everyone in your family might have one, but what if the phone gets lost? (Upperman himself had misplaced his iPhone the day we spoke.) What if the battery runs out? What if service is disrupted?
Go old school and make sure you’ve got phone numbers and other important information on paper. And tuck a list of five emergency contacts into your child’s backpack for good measure, Upperman suggests.
On your own list, include numbers for your pediatrician and other healthcare providers, and know what their emergency plans include. And make sure you have copies of health records for your entire family accessible. (That means you’ll need to request them from your healthcare provider’s office.)
Is your child emergency ready?
Most people don’t like to think about disasters and emergencies. They’re scary. And they’re even scarier for our kids. But you can, and should, still take steps to make sure your children know what to do in the event of an emergency. Here are a few suggestions from Upperman for activities to make preparedness fun:
The idea is to break all that info into manageable portions with activities that you know teach serious lessons, but still treat the family to some fun. If you ever need to put these lessons into practice, you’ll feel more calm knowing everyone understands what to do. And all the kids need to remember is that it’s “just like that game we played.”