The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises families to create a disaster plan to help their children cope with hazardous situations. The position statements comes as the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches and as the emotional scars of thousands of displaced children continue to plaque America.

Children are especially vulnerable during and after disasters. The AAP recommends that parents discuss possible disaster plans with their children, so the children will know what to do in hazardous situations.

“It is imperative to consider both the physical and emotional needs of children during and after a disaster,” says AAP President Eileen M. Ouellette, MD, JD, FAAP. “The thousands of children still displaced by Katrina, and still grieving the loss of their homes and loved ones, need continued care and support.”

Because of children’s developmental limitations, they are often unable to express their needs directly or clearly. They rely on adults to help them identify and express their concerns, to help them access supportive services, to model appropriate coping behaviors, and to provide a supportive environment so they can begin to understand and adjust to the crisis.

Parents can create a family disaster plan by taking these simple steps.

– Talk with your children about the dangers of disasters that are common to in your area and how to prepare for each type. Make sure they know where to go in your home and school to stay safe during an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or other disaster.

– Teach your child how to recognize danger signals. Ensure your child knows what smoke detectors, fire alarms and local community warning systems (horns and sirens) sound like and what to do when they hear them.

– Explain to children how and when to call for help. Keep emergency phone numbers where family members can find them.

– Pick an out-of-state family contact person who family members can “check-in” with if you are separated during an emergency. For older children, help them to memorize the person’s name and phone number, or give them a copy of the emergency list.

– Agree on a meeting place away from your home (a neighbor or relative’s house or even a street corner) where you would get together if you were separated in an emergency. Give each family member an emergency list with the name, address and phone number of the meeting place.

– Put together a disaster supplies kit for your family.

– Practice your family disaster plan every six months, so everyone will remember what to do in an emergency.

– Include your pet in your family disaster plan. In an emergency, shelters can’t take pets, so plan what to do in case you have to evacuate. Ask your humane society if there is an animal shelter near you. Prepare a list of kennels and veterinarians who could shelter your pet in an emergency.

The AAP urges parents and caregivers to remember that if children receive appropriate support, they may emerge from a crisis more capable and resilient. Without such support, children are more likely to have difficulty adjusting, and may be at risk for long-term problems.

More information can be found on the AAP Web site, and on the following links:

Children, Terrorism, and Disasters Web site

Family Readiness Kit: Preparing to Handle Disasters

Feelings Need Check Ups Too CD ROM

Responding to Children’s Emotional Needs During Times of Crisis

Pediatricians & Disaster Preparedness Policy Statement & Technical Report;117/2/560;117/2/e340

Tip Sheet on When Your Child Needs Emergency Medical Services

Tip Sheet on Four Steps to Prepare Your Family for Disaster

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics