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When a magnitude-5.8 earthquake shook Donald “Diesel” Embrey’s hometown in 2011, the Virginia high school student sprang into action. Since Embrey was a member of the volunteer fire department, he helped set up a triage center and emergency shelter at the fire station.

Few teens would be as well prepared to handle a crisis, but young people should be encouraged to get involved in emergency preparedness activities at an early age. Since children make up about one quarter of the population of the United States, planning for emergencies should take into account their unique needs.

Youth preparedness programs can improve a community’s resilience and raise the next generation of prepared adults. The Department of Homeland Security’s website ready.gov offers resources to help teach children what to do in an emergency. Here are some of those tips:

• Teach your children how and when to dial 9-1-1 and how to communicate information in an emergency.

• Keep school records updated and discuss emergency contact numbers with your children.

• Review your family emergency communications plan with kids.

• Include your child's medication or supplies in your family’s emergency kit.

• Think about including your child's favorite stuffed animals, board games, books or music in their emergency kit to comfort them in a disaster.

• Get the kids involved in building their own emergency kit using the ready.gov "Build a Kit" game.

• Ask your child’s teacher about the school’s emergency plans. Healthychildren.org offers a list of actions schools can take to improve safety.

• Encourage your kids to become Disaster Masters through a game on ready.gov.

• Teachers can download emergency preparedness curriculum for the classroom. Curriculum for 4th and 5th graders is also available at fema.gov

Studies and real life experiences support the idea that children who have learned about emergency preparedness experience less anxiety during an actual emergency. Knowing what to do in an emergency builds confidence and helps develop a sense of civic involvement that can carry into adulthood. Youngsters can also motivate parents to participate in disaster preparedness activities, which are an essential part of all community preparedness efforts.

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Greg Neill, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 651.6407 or gregory.nei@riverstonehealth.org.

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