I'm a paramedic in a large county, about 800,000 residents. As such I get to have first hand contact with people in some of the worst times of their life. Recently I had a situation that drove home something simple we can do to help our children out in a disaster - big or the much more likely small.
More after the squiggle. (yeah, that was a teaser! But I think this will be worth reading)
Here was the situation
(as best as I can with out violating HIPPA): A parent was driving their children to another place when the car was hit by another car (Motor Vehicle Collision - MVC). Parent was not using any safety device and was not able to answer questions. Parent also had no ID on them.
The kids were ok, under the age of 8 and were in proper seats with belts. (Note: always wear your seat belts! This would have been a walk away) The kids knew their first names, last names but not how to spell them. They did not know their address beyond the street, and did know the phone number of the parent in the car. The car was not registered in the name of the parent. There was a delay in getting ahold of 911 because the oldest kid did not know how to call with a cell phone.
What you can do (and what i'm doing now)
My kids have learned the phone number of the house, address, and how to spell their last names. That is great, but what happens if no one is home - like in this case. The Parent was the only phone number the kids new, for the house, not the cell.
So, i've started getting my kids to learn a few more numbers: my cell phone, my spouse's cell phone, and a relative who lives near by phone number. My oldest is also learning my email address and my fathers email.
Another weak spot for my kids, and I'm sure for most people, is calling 911 from a cell phone or from your home phone. (yes, i know many people don't have those things, as they are going the way of the pay phone)
What do I mean by this? When you call 911, it is very unlikely that it is when you're clam and not in an emergency. (if it is not an emergency, why are you calling? - no, really paramedics often ask this question to our selves…a lot) When you are in an emergency, you default to the lowest level of training, you slide into "instinctive" mode.
This means you will do what you can do at the instinctive level, and can do complex/fine motor skills only with thought. Think about the fine motor skills needed to call on a cell phone: pull it out, hit the small on button, swipe or press the screen to make a call, place your finger on the right numbers in the right order, and hit send/call. Then you have to be ready to answer questions.
Now you will be excited, your heart is beating faster, you have stress, you are trying to keep an eye on the person you are calling about and make the call. And you are an adult. Think how hard it will be for a kid. This is why you need to practice.
How to practice
Start with your home phone. Un plug it. Then sit down and talk about safety, when it is ok to call 911 and when it is not. Then have them "make a call" on the unplugged phone for a reason - Fire, medical or reporting a crime. Play act the call:
You- Ring, Ring - "This is 911, what is the nature of your emergency? Police Fire or Ambulance/Medical?"
Kids- "I need (what) because there is (reason) at (address)."
You - "What is your phone number...What is your name?…What is going on?…[then ask questions about the emergency - like for fire - are you still in the house? is anyone? or are they breathing? etc]
Kids - (answer questions) is it ok to hang up now?" (always stay on the phone till they tell you it is ok to hang up.)
Then do a roll reversal, where you make the call and they get to be 911. Do this a few times then stop. A month later, do it again. Be sure to do practice like with a cell phone - better if you have an old phone that is not connected to use.
Why this helps.
You build muscle memory by 'making the call". By answering the questions you get use to stopping your talking to answer a question. You do what you have trained to the instinctive level.
Here are some examples. When I did EMS in New York in the mid 90's, a sheriff deputy was at home alone and negligently discharged his service weapon into his leg. He was hurt and losing blood. Now, he had a habit of calling 411 to get any number he needed (as a sheriff the phone company would not charge him so he used it all the time). He picked up the phone and dialed 911…except he hit the buttons 411. He did this five times before he waited till information answered and had them connect him to 911 for help. His dialing of 411 was such a habit in his excited state he just did what his body said is the thing to do.
The other example is why you dial the number and talk. (a story i've heard about from several sources and was an example presented to us on why we train like we do in the army) A police officer learned about how to disarm a person with a gun. He would practice every day with his partner and with his wife. Using a practice gun (plastic) he would have the partner pull the gun and he would do the move take the gun and then hand it back to his partner to do it again.
He got really good at it. One day as he walked into a store he came around the food racks and there was a person pointing a gun at him. Without thinking the move was made and the gun was out of the hands of the bad guy-which i'm sure amazed the robber. Then the policeman handed the gun back to the guy-which i'm sure amazed and confused the robber. (at that point the partner of the policeman shot the robber.)
Consider how practicing calling 911 and hanging up as soon as you dial the number could train you for an emergency. Or calling 911, saying "I have a fire at my house" and hanging up. Not what you want to happen in an emergency.
Preparing for Disaster
Most disasters are not "The End Of The World As We Know It" but rather small personal events that seldom involve more than your family. Car collisions, home fires, falls, job loss, heart attacks, robbery, etc. These are all things knowing how to call 911, knowing the name and phone number of an adult who does not live at the home, could be very helpful. Or at least make things less stressful knowing your kids can get help if you are not around.