A home safety plan is an essential tool for keeping your family safe, as it establishes what to do in case of emergency. All families should prepare for fire safety and burglar defense, but you should also extend your planning to natural disasters. This will depend greatly on where you live. Does your area get frequent flooding? Earthquakes? Hurricanes? Tornadoes?
(And now that scene from The Wizard of Oz with the flapping cellar doors is running through my head…)
Even with young children, it’s important to practice your plan several times per year. (And at least once at night.) Since fear and adrenaline are not friends of preparedness, get to a point where you can all act on autopilot. Stay safe!
Create Your Home Safety Plan
1. Identify Two Safe Meeting Areas
Choose the two safest areas in your home – one as your primary meeting spot, and the other as your alternative. The safest spots are ones without windows and closest to the ground, so if you have a basement or first-floor interior bathroom (or other windowless area), these are often the safest choices. A long hallway can also work.
2. Set Two Outdoor Meeting Areas
In case your family is separated during an emergency, also set two safe outdoor meeting spot to reunite (primary and alternative). Your outdoor meeting area is the primary escape destination during a fire.
3. Draw a Diagram
Children are visual and often do well with reminders. Draw a color-coded diagram of your various escape routes. Choose a favorite color for the primary safety plan, so your child will be able to easily jog her memory in an emergency. If you have more than one young child, give each his own color-coded plan.
4. Dial 911
Teach your child the power of 911. As basic safety, children should always be able to recite their full address; this is helpful in case of emergency, as they’ll be able to call for emergency help even from a cell phone.
5. Know Your Equipment
Except for very young children, all members of your household should know how to use a fire extinguisher and how to identify the call of a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
The key to emergency preparedness is practice. In the moment, you’ll likely experience a mixture of fear, panic and adrenaline. It’s easy to act on reflex, so drilling your home safety plan over and over will help you keep a cool head.
Practicing your plan is also very important for keeping children safe. If they sleep on an upper level of your home, be sure to practice climbing down the fire escape ladder. Talking about the fire escape ladder is not enough. Some children have an unknown fear of heights and may freeze in the moment, if it is their first time on the ladder. Practice in advance.
Make sure to practice your safety plan during different conditions, and at least once per year at night. The dark amplifies fear, and in an emergency your children will likely be scared. Practicing in advance gets them better prepared to stay safe.
Finally, practice basic safety measures over and over, like touching a door before opening (to identify the heat of fire) or “stop, drop and roll.” If you live in an earthquake-prone area, teach your children (and train yourself) not to run outside – it’s quaking out there, too! – but to hunker down in a safe spot. If you suffer from hurricanes or tornadoes, drill your family on getting to a safe spot.
In other words: Be prepared, and drill preparedness until it’s second nature.