March 6, 2008

Preparing Your Family for Emergencies

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"I think you'd better get the boys and head to the basement."

My husband's voice was calm but firm. His lack of small talk and tone showed that he meant business. "A tornado just touched down near Woodstock," he explained.

After briefly checking the weather online, I lured our three sons downstairs with the promise of fort-building fun, careful to keep my voice calm.

Eight-year-old Jackson's panic meter has a hair trigger in these situations, like the time I told him his conscience would haunt him like a ghost if he told a lie. "A ghost?" he'd shrieked, looking behind him, wide-eyed. Tornado talk would have to come gently and with proper timing.

I took an indirect approach, remembering an "emergency rations" kit we'd assembled earlier in the year. Jackson and Nolan got the idea from a "Super Mario Brothers" video game and asked if we could make one (scoring points for video games with this tech-cautious mom).

We'd talked about why a family might need emergency rations -- like during a power outage -- and what we might put inside the kit.

"Watermelon!" blurted Nolan.

"Well, not exactly," I said. "We'll need food that won't get too stinky if we kept it for a while."

"Twains!" said Aaron, ever the "Thomas the Tank Engine" enthusiast.

"How about granola bars?" asked Jackson.

Since we always have a jumbo box of granola bars and dried fruit on hand, it was easy enough getting started. We found an empty plastic storage bin, and I put some snacks and one of our home first-aid kits inside. While we prefer environmentally friendlier, reusable water bottles, we didn't have enough to spare reusable, so I bought a small pack of bottled water for our emergency tote. A hand-crank radio/flashlight combo my father-in-law sent us moved from "where the heck do we keep this?" to the coolest item in the bin.

Even though we still had power, I turned off the lights and had the kids search for a weather report using the wind-up radio. Pointing out that we were in the safest part of the house during the storm, I was able to discuss tornado preparedness without pushing Jackson's worry alarm to "eleven" too quickly. Thankfully, the tornado touched down pretty far from our home, but close enough to give us a good practice run.

To learn more about preparing your family for emergency situations, visit the Red Cross web site, (

How do you prepare your family for emergency situations? Click the comments link below to share ideas.

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