Youth and Disasters

traumaPost by Lynette Black, 4-H Youth Development Faculty, Oregon State University

When it comes to the effects of disasters, children are a vulnerable population. Understanding the unique needs of children and including these needs in disaster planning will help them better cope with life following the disaster. Let’s take a look at this unique population.

They Rely on Adults

Children are physically and emotionally dependent on the caring adults in their lives. During disasters they will turn to the adult to keep them safe. If the adults are unprepared, the children are left vulnerable both physically and emotionally. This means child care providers, educators, afterschool providers, coaches and other caring adults need to be prepared with disaster plans that include knowledge of how to respond to disasters, comprehensive evacuation plans, and safe and efficient family reunification plans.

They are Not Small Adults

Children are more susceptible to the hazards caused by disasters due to their underdeveloped bodies and brains. Their skin is thinner, they take more breaths per minute, they are closer to the ground, the require more fluids per pound, and they need to eat more often; leaving the child more vulnerable to physical harm from the disaster. In addition, their brains are not fully developed leading to limited understanding of what they experienced and possible prolonged mental health issues. Since children take their cures from their caring adult, the adult’s reactions and responses can either add to or minimize the child’s stress level. Preparations for disasters need to include not only survival kits including first aid supplies for the physical body, but also teaching children (and their adults) stress reducing coping skills for positive mental health.

Their Routine Equals Comfort

Children need routine to help them make sense of their world. Keeping the child’s schedule as consistent as possible following a disaster is crucial to their sense of well-being. The reopening of school, afterschool and recreational programming as soon as possible adds stability the child’s life. Helping families return to a routine known to the child (snack time, bed time, story time) is of utmost importance and helps the child find a new norm post-disaster.

They are At Risk

At particular risk for prolonged mental health and substance abuse issues is the adolescent population. Their brains are in a developmental stage where, in simple terms, the executive function is underdeveloped leaving the emotional part of the brain in charge. This causes this age group to “act without thinking” and feel emotions more intensely than other ages. Disasters increase the typical teen emotions and behaviors leading to greater risk taking, impulsivity and recklessness. They also suffer from increased anxiety and depression and can develop cognitive/concentration difficulties. The caring adults in an adolescent’s life can help recovery by being available to them; listen without judgment, stay calm, serve as a good role model, encourage involvement in community recovery work and resumption of regular social and recreational activities. Understand that with adolescents the effects of the disaster may last longer and may even reappear later in life.

Disasters and traumatic events touch all of us, but can have a particularly traumatic effect on children. The good news is most children will recover, especially if the caring adults in their lives take the steps before, during and after the event to provide basic protective factors and to restore or preserve normalcy in their lives.

See Lynette’s webinar on this topic. If you are a childcare provider, you may also be interested in this online course on disaster preparedness for childcare providers.

View Impacts of Disaster on Youth Webcast

Weather Wednesday – The Family Go Kit

From time to time on Weather Wednesday we will step away from purely meteorological topics to address preparedness. This week we’ll discuss one of the most basic preparedness items, a personal or family Go Kit.

A Go Kit should be assembled and customized according to individual needs following some general guidelines from FEMA. Be sure to look under the tabs for additional suggested items.

AP_fairdale_tornado_14_sk_150410_16x9_1600Let’s look at some of the items which should be included:

Water, one gallon per person per day for three days for drinking and sanitation. For long term storage the crystal clear containers hold up better, but water and food stocks should be rotated out regularly.

Food, a three day supply of non-perishable food. If using canned food, be sure to include a can opener. Specialty meals designed for use by campers are also a good option. Check preparation instructions to be sure you have all of the necessary equipment.

Battery powered, hand cranked and/or solar powered radio capable of receiving NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio and standard broadcast. Carry extra batteries.

Flashlight and extra batteries. Batteries will generally last considerably longer in LED flashlights.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2008 -- A Red Cross "ready to go" preparedness kit showing the bag and it's contents. Red Cross photograph
Red Cross via FEMA

First aid kit. A good basic kit will suffice unless special needs are involved.

Whistle to signal for help. A small air horn is also a good addition, but you can’t beat a whistle for convenience. It takes less volume of air to blow a whistle than to yell which can be important if one is trapped by debris. A whistle or horn also has a better chance of being heard over heavy equipment.

Dust mask.

Plastic sheet and tape if asked to shelter in place.

Local maps. Remember, familiar landmarks may be destroyed in some disasters.

Cell phone with chargers, inverters, solar power, charging packs, etc. Note, avoid using accessories such as the built in flashlight which tend to run down the battery rapidly.

Prescription medications and glasses. Setting aside medication can be problematic so work with your physician and pharmacist to see what can be done.

Cash and change. If the power is out or communications lines down, ATMs will be out of service.

Copies of insurance papers, account numbers, etc. Do keep these in a special place in the kit so you can keep track of them.

Infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc if applicable. Include a leash for your pet and count their water needs as well.

Change of clothes. Err on the side of warmth and waterproof items.

A couple of items recent experience has shown to be very valuable. Sturdy shoes or boots. Sandals and flip flops are not at all useful when walking through debris. If you have identified a shelter area in your home, you might want to keep the spare shoes/boots there.

Bicycle helmets or hard hats may also be useful if easily accessible to your shelter area.

Remember a Go kit should be able to do just that, pick up and go, should the need arise. It is important to temperate the desire to plan for all contingencies with the practical need to perhaps carry the kit for some distance. Kits are also available from retailers, but make sure to customize to your needs.

5 Tips for College Campus Safety

Tips about Returning to Campus Safety

Written by Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant.

Safety is an integral part of the world we live in, and that is no different for students on a college campus. These tips should help parents and college students feel safer and more secure about starting college for the first time or returning to their campus home.

1. Know the look and location of campus emergency telephones.                         

Almost all college campuses have emergency telephones located throughout the campus. You should know the general location and look of these phones before anything happens. In the event that someone is following you, press all the emergency phone buttons you pass along the way so that the campus police can track you and find you quickly.

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2. Locate safe zones.                                                                

Locate where to go during a natural disaster in the buildings you will be spending the majority of your time, such as: where your classes are and the student center or cafeteria. Most campuses have posters or decals on the walls of places that are safe during a tornado or other natural disaster. Knowing this before a warning or watch is issued will help you calmly get to the safe location.

3. Pack an emergency kit.

This kit can be a small one that you can carry in your backpack: It actually is better if it is small, because that makes it easier to carry. Make sure you comply with your campus rules when preparing this kit, such as some campuses do not allow knives. Some good items to include in your kit are: a phone charger, a whistle to help emergency officials locate you, granola bars, bottle of water, a miniature flashlight, a campus and local map, a paper list of emergency numbers: relatives, roommates, Resident Assistant, and apartment managers.

4. Utilize the age old “Buddy System”

You may think you are too old or too cool for the buddy system, but the truth is it really could help keep you safe; plus it is fun to hang out with friends. If there are two or more downloadpeople together walking around campus, they are more likely to stay safe; because they are more alert to each other and the surroundings, and the likelihood of an aggressor confronting two people is lower than one person. Use this rule especially when walking around campus late at night or attending parties. If your school offers a free ride service, use that anytime you need to travel around campus at night.

5. Know how to react during an emergency.

Auburn University Department of Public Safety released a video demonstrating what to do if there is an active shooter on campus, it is beneficial for every college student to watch. The acronym used in the video is ALICE: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. The letters do not have to be used in this order, the situation determines what should be done. Alert refers to how you learn about the danger. Lockdown refers to locking and barricading the door between you and the aggressor. Inform refers to telling the authorities where you are and where the aggressor is. Counter should be used if the aggressor makes it into your safe area. Do not just hide. Distract and disrupt the aggressor by throwing whatever is at your disposal: book bags, books, desks, or whatever is within reach. The police suggest that Evacuate is the best option; remove yourself and anyone else from harms way if at all possible.