The recent tragic storms have brought to the forefront a reminder what people need to do: It is essential to be prepared for tornadoes and other natural disasters.
"We can’t change the fact that nature can cause mass destruction, but we can do everything possible to be ready when it happens," said Sam Smith, M.D., is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "Severe weather can be taxing for all members of the family, but the best way to protect your loved ones and provide some comfort on severe weather days is to prepare now. Just because one major storm has come through our state already this season doesn’t mean there won’t be others."
Smith said the first thing that needs done is put together a supply kit to keep in a safe place so everything needed is right there at hand when the siren starts.
"Water and food should be among the first items you consider," Smith said. "The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a full list of supplies for disaster kits on their website at ready.gov."
Here are a few highlights to get you started on a basic kit:
• At least a gallon of water per person for three days
• At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
• Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
• First Aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Infant formula and diapers if needed
There are many other supplies that can be helpful during an emergency, too, ranging from sturdy shoes to rain gear and water-proof storage for important family documents. Parents may also want to have some distraction items like small toys nearby to calm their young children.
"Don’t forget to refresh the kit at least once a year to ensure that items haven’t expired," Smith said. "Just as essential is ensuring that everyone in your family knows what to do – in age-appropriate roles and language – in the event of a tornado."
Identify the safest place in the home for shelter – a basement, interior bathroom or closet, for example.
"Make sure that older kids and teens know to go there, especially if they might be home alone or with baby-sitters when a storm strikes," Smith said. "With younger children, it is best to have a basic conversation about the storm and avoid any drama so they aren’t frightened."
FEMA also suggests designating a family member or friend who lives out of town as a point of emergency contact. If family members are separated during the storm, they can call this person to check in and relay the message that each is safe.
If parents have children in daycare or school, they should also ask about the facility’s plan for storm readiness. Where is the shelter on campus? At what point are children guided there during a storm? The director or teacher should be able to share their emergency plans, which will help everyone feel more secure.
"Of course, storms can upset children no matter when they occur," Smith said.
Dr. Nicholas Long, director of the Center for Effective Parenting on the Arkansas Children’s Hospital campus, suggests that parents explain the situation simply and directly, providing only the information that a child truly needs.
"Listen to your kids and encourage and anticipate their questions about storms, while offering reassurance. Remind them of the preparations you’ve taken as a family because their greatest concern will be their safety and the safety of their family members," Long said.
Long said that while it’s important for a parent to monitor the weather situation, they should also restrict children’s access to television and media reports about the storm. It may be helpful to have a parent or older sibling read a story in another room, for example, while an adult keeps an eye on what’s happening. He notes that repeated exposure to media coverage of disasters has been shown to increase children’s anxiety.
The National Weather Service estimates that there are about 8,000 tornadoes across the U.S. each year, with the majority of them striking in spring and early summer. Today, there are more warnings farther in advance of tornadoes than ever before.
"We can’t avoid these natural disasters, of course, but we can make preparations now that take some of the fear out of the situation. A little planning can make a tremendous difference when that familiar siren starts to sound," Long said.