Having a family emergency plan is a must, especially when you factor in all the crazy weather that can occur in late-summer on into winter. Depending on where you live, weather events may be common year-round. Then, of course, there’s the possibility of house fires, flash floods and blackouts. When you have children, you want to make sure that each person, right down to the littlest, knows their role in in the event of an emergency. To make sure everyone is truly prepared, I recommend running family emergency drills. I challenge you to pick one of these drills you’ve never done before and work on it once a week for a month.
1. Lights Out!
I think running an power-outage drill is a good place to start because it’s the simplest. Go to the breaker box and shut off the power. The last time we ran an electricity drill, we were in the middle of packing to move, so we cut power everywhere except the fridge and the stove. Normally, I would have cut the stove, too, but all our outdoor cooking equipment was packed by then and I just didn’t want to unpack it. You don’t need to wait around to run these drills until everything is “just so” and you feel totally ready. Just pick a day, pick a drill, and try it.
You’ll learn so much by performing these drills, but have a few things on hand before you begin. For a simulated power outage, have flashlights, headlamps or candles handy. If you plan to use candles, be have candlesticks on hand that cast the light as far as possible. If you have a mirror handy, that can help to reflect light, as well.
2. Fire, Fire!
Fire can be scary to talk about, even for adults. I found that I wasn’t running fire drills like I should be because I wasn’t sure where to start. Fortunately, we had a firefighter friend who agreed to come over in his gear and talk to the kids about what happens during a fire. Talk to your local fire station about arranging a similar presentation, possibly in the firehouse.
Our friend put on all his equipment piece by piece so the kids could see how it kept him safe and what he looked like when he was in all of it. This was important because small children will often hide from fully equipped firefighters during a house fire because they’re afraid of them.
After the show-and-tell, he walked up and down our house and pointed out areas that would be hard to evacuate and access during a house fire. These places included the highest level of our house, our basement and our stairwells. He suggested that we purchase a large, red ball to signify a place where there’s a simulated fire. During our family drills, we were to move the red ball around to different places and try to work out new ways of safely evacuating any room and any area of our house. This was such a helpful idea! Before any real fire could happen, we will have already worked through most of the possible scenarios with our big, red fire ball.
One thing I’ll mention about the top floor (three floors up) is that the only access was a stairwell. Our firefighter friend suggested that should there be fire in the stairwell, the kids who slept on the top floor should go immediately to the windows and open them to break out the screens and shout as loudly as possible to get firefighters’ attention. He said firefighters will always walk the perimeter looking and listening for people who might be trapped. When they’d find the shouting children, they’d tell them what to do from there.
As you plan your fire drills, run a few unannounced drills with the actual fire alarms. We discovered—and upon reading, realized it’s very common—that our children didn’t wake up to the sound of the regular alarms. We decided to purchase a programmable fire alarm with our voices saying their names and telling them to get up. In the recording, the older children were reminded to first get their shoes by their beds and then their assigned younger sibling and proceed with our evacuation plan. Even with our voices (calm but firm) blaring at them, it still took them at least a minute or two to for them rouse.
3. No Grocery Store, No Problem
A simulated job loss or shipping strike, which makes it impossible to go to the grocery store, may sound like a tragedy to your children. Oh, the horror! You can tailor this drill to suit your needs, going one day, one week or longer without grocery shopping. This is also a good exercise for the grown-ups, as it forces us to prepare meals with absolutely everything we have on hand that is tucked in corners and perhaps long-neglected. It’s a great thing for the children to go through because it makes them grateful for the food they get to eat most days and exposes the foods they just plain won’t eat, no matter how hungry they are. That’s something to keep in mind—young children will sometimes starve themselves before they eat food that doesn’t taste good to them.
If you have emergency food already stored, this is an opportunity to actually use some of it to see if it’s palatable. Often what we put into our home storage bins is just not that tasty. This is also a good chance to take notes on how much food we should store for an emergency. Note how much you really eat and what your favorite stored meals are. Be sure to store some treats, too—a little chocolate goes a long way toward cheering everyone up, so don’t discount it. You may want to include water in your drill. Everyone needs at least 1 gallon a day to drink, but that doesn’t include hygiene needs.
During each drill, take notes about what worked and what didn’t. Figure out what changes need to be made to your preparedness plans, and set a deadline to make the changes. Have a family discussion afterwards, and offer a small reward to everyone who participates. We usually use food—something warm and tasty—as a thank you to everyone for cooperating.