If You Get Separated from Your Children During a Disaster, Do This First

If You Get Separated from Your Children During a Disaster, Do This First


Earlier this week, two children and their mother were found safe in North Carolina after their mobile home park was destroyed in a tornado. Although 2020 has had a milder hurricane season than predicted so far, tornadoes and dangerous thunderstorms have swept through the country this summer.

Do you know what to do if you and your children are separated during a natural disaster? Read on to find out.

Disaster Planning Saves Lives

Ideally, you should have a plan in place already for disasters common in your area. Even young children can learn a basic safety plan that includes a place to shelter. It helps to give kids a “job” so that they feel like they’re contributing to the family’s safety. Little ones might need a very simple job, such as picking up a toy or a flashlight to bring with them. Older kids and teens can help in more effective ways, including the wrangling of younger siblings.

Just as students practice disaster drills at school, you should drill your plan at home. It might be scary at first for children who don’t quite understand what’s going on, but that’s the point of the drills. The more they’ve practice, the less upsetting and chaotic a real disaster will be.

No matter how carefully you plan, however, you might still end up separated from your children during a disaster. If an earthquake or tornado strikes while you’re at work and they’re at school, for example, things get a lot trickier.

Reunification Is the Top Priority

According to the CDC, “[e]mergencies increase the possibility for children to become separated from their parents or legal guardians. During the evacuation or sheltering process, parents may find that they are at work and their children are in child care, school, a recreational facility, or other location.”

During Hurricane Katrina, for instance, thousands of children went missing before eventually being reunited with their families. The most important thing in a nightmare scenario like that is not to panic. Talk to emergency personnel about what’s happened and call 1-800-THE-LOST right away. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a database of children who have been separated from their guardians during a disaster. That’s a vital first step in bringing you back together again–yet many parents don’t know about it.

Keep recent pictures and vital statistics about your child on your phone and in your wallet. Make sure that your kids have a similar card to help emergency workers get in touch with you. Older children who use social media can mark themselves as “safe,” but don’t assume that they will have cell phone coverage immediately after a disaster.