It’s the worst fear of a parent: their child has vanished. In the United States, 2,300 children go missing every day.
Children often go missing during times of emergency, such as natural disasters, when they become separated from their parents.
According to the CDC, during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s hotline received over 34,000 calls. Furthermore, it took six months to reconnect 5,192 missing kids and their families.
Although natural disasters are unpredictable, there are ways we can ensure our children don’t go missing during one.
1. Teach Children Your Contact Information
The most essential thing you can do to keep your children safe in an emergency is to make sure they know their contact information. This entails assisting your children in learning their entire names, as well as their parents’ complete names and address.
Put this contact information on a laminated card for your child to keep in their book bag or coat if they are too young to memorize it all.
You should also ensure that your family’s emergency contact information is up to date each year (as well as when it changes).
2. Make a decision regarding the Family Meeting Place.
In the event of an emergency, such as a fire, children should always be trained on how to exit their house. But this is not where their knowledge or exiting should stop.
If you and your family get separated, it is important to have a designated meeting place where everyone will go. Possible locations include grandma’s house, a church in the neighborhood, or a playground.
Always choose and agree upon a meeting place with your family before going on outings in public. That way, if you get separated, everyone knows where to regroup. For instance, meet outside of a certain fair ride.
3. Discuss and Define Rules for When on Outings
Emergencies are unpredictable, which is why it is crucial to set guidelines for when you’re out and about with your children.
For example, explain to the kids that if they can’t see you, then you can’t see them. This means they’re outside of the safe zone. Emphasize the importance of looking both ways before crossing streets, listening when in public, and staying alert at all times.
4. “What If” Scenarios
While you don’t want to frighten your children, it is essential to go over various emergency situations with them.
Go over the contact information and family meeting place with your kids, talking about when they would need to use this knowledge. It’s essential to keep things basic so you don’t frighten them unnecessarily.
5. Create a buddy system.
It’s critical to always push your children to utilize the buddy system (even if they go off to college). Having a buddy along when they are out is an added measure of protection.
6. Determine School Emergency Plans
If your kid goes to daycare, school, or summer camp, inquire about the security procedures in place.
Ask about their emergency procedures in addition to safeguarding gates and doors. In the event of an emergency, where would children go? How will parents be informed of problems?
7. Explain When to Move & when to stay put
When children go missing, their natural first reaction is to search for their parents. This is often a mistake.
Tell your children to stay put, and you’ll come find them. If they’re all running about at the same time, it’ll be more difficult for you to locate them.
If your child is in a safe place and their parents are returning, they should stay put. If your kid is in danger, they should move to safety as quickly as possible and inform an adult if feasible.
Remind them that hazardous locations include deep water, heavy traffic, and off a designated route.
8. Point Out Who can Help
It’s crucial to converse with kids about whom they can approach for help if you and them are separated.
Since kids are often told not to talk to strangers, this rule can be confusing for them.
Tell them to keep their eyes out for helpful people, such as cops, firefighters, security guards, park rangers, or other staff. Point out how some employees dress (for example, their shirts or name tags).
It’s a good idea to suggest they look for moms, as well. Moms with children are less threatening and more likely to assist lost kids.
9. When looking, divide and conquer
If your child goes missing, it is natural to want to run and search for them. However, this may not be the best thing to do.
If you’re out searching for your lost child, they may backtrack to where you began or find their way home before you locate them.
Divide and conquer are two of the most important survival conditions. If at all feasible, have one person remain at the spot where the youngster was last seen while a second person goes looking for him or her.
10. Provide a Communication Tool
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding when your child should have a cell phone. However, phones can be useful communication tools in emergency situations.
You may also find their position using the device’s GPS in addition to communicating via calls or text messages.
In the event of an emergency, it is essential that your child knows how to access and dial 9-1-1 on your cell phone. Unlike our generation that only needed to know how to dial those three numbers on a home phone, today’s children need to be aware of how to unlock a screen and find the correct symbol before even beginning to make the call.
For individuals who are unsure about giving a young kid a cell phone, consider buying a kid’s smartwatch that allows for location monitoring and calling only to a specific number of people.
Many parents of elementary-aged kids who ride school buses use tools to track their children’s whereabouts and ensure they arrive at and leave school safely.
In conclusion , it is vital to have conversations with your children about what to do if they find themselves in a situation where they are separated from you. Utilize these tips as a way to start that conversation. And, as always, practice makes perfect. The more scenarios you role-play with your kids, the better prepared they will be in the event that they find themselves in a real-life situation.