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A safety project for your teen

Published on: October 01, 2007

Call him a safety nut, but Nicholas Hatch doesn’t like to take chances. Even though he has completed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training and has a HAM radio operator’s license, the Federal Way 15-year-old knows there’s still more he and his family can do to prepare for an emergency.

“There is always something that has been overlooked, more training to be had or more supplies to gather,” says Hatch, who is homeschooled.

Last year, Alyssa Wolf and a few of her friends from the ninth grade vowed to get local volcano evacuation route signs lighted so they show up in the dark. The Federal Way teenagers applied for a grant, which they didn’t get, but that hasn’t stopped them from moving forward with their project. They’ve spoken to local emergency managers to gain support and have started the paperwork to get a patent for their signs.

Both of these teens understand the importance of being prepared for a disaster. Even though we all hope we won’t go through one, planning for an emergency is the best way to cope with fear and protect your family from the worst.

Kinds of disasters

One of the most common disasters to prepare for is a house fire. Teens can help their families get ready by talking about escape routes, being responsible for checking smoke detectors’ batteries and putting together a drill. Last winter, many of us learned firsthand about some of the other emergencies to discuss and be ready for: winter storms and power outages, for starters; earthquakes, volcanoes, a pandemic and even choking during dinner.

Creating a plan

Creating a family emergency kit is a great activity for a teenager; a way to show responsibility and make a real contribution to the family’s well-being. Gathering the basics is easy. Have your teen put the following together in a big waterproof container: 1 gallon of water per person per day for a minimum of three days, nonperishable food for three days, extra clothing, pet items, battery-operated flashlights and radios, batteries, extra medications, emergency blankets, a first-aid kit, personal hygiene items and a personal item for each family member, such as a book or a stuffed animal.

It’s important to have an out-of-area contact person. Long-distance lines are usually repaired first after a disaster.

“People tend to think they are going to be at home when a disaster befalls,” says Karen Kim, public affairs officer for the Mount Rainier Chapter of the American Red Cross. “But they may be all over the place.”

“If a family is separated and can contact the out-of-area person [to find out where the rest of their family is], that goes a long way to reduce the stress,” says Ray Gross, emergency management coordinator for Federal Way. Be sure to let the out-of-state contact know that you’ve chosen them as a contact. Then have your teen create business-sized cards with the contact’s name and phone number on them, for every family member to carry in their wallet. Your teen can program the number into family members’ cell phones and help younger siblings memorize it.

Establishing a meeting place for family members outside your home helps prevent chaos. It could be the mailbox or a neighbor’s driveway. You will also need a meeting place outside of your neighborhood in case you can’t get to your house. Make sure everyone knows the location and under what circumstances this meeting place will be used.

Going further

Teens can gain emergency preparedness knowledge by taking classes such as babysitter training, CPR, first aid, pet first aid and emergency preparedness; all offered by the American Red Cross. CERT training, which covers most phases of emergency preparedness, Other options are Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training, where the needs and skills of individuals in a neighborhood are identified, and search and rescue. Gross says that the advantage of these groups is that they keep teens involved and practicing what they have learned.

“About every three months we have an earthquake or fire drill at our house,” says Hatch. Practice helps prepare everyone so that what they need to do becomes second nature.

Heather Larson, who lives in Tacoma, frequently writes about emergency preparedness.

Emergency Preparedness Games

Ray Gross, emergency management coordinator for the city of Federal Way, highly recommends these games as a fun and family-oriented way to prepare.

Disaster Blaster
— an interactive board game that asks families to perform the action on the card they draw, making the game both fun and useful. You’re bound to find suggestions here you haven’t thought about. Visit

Game Plan — a card game based on preparedness questions. With every correct answer, players collect items and training to help them get ready. Visit (preparedness items).

Printed Game Board Kits
— kits that contain everything you need to create your own board game: a blank game board, spinner, blank cards, die and markers. Teens can make their own emergency preparedness game to play with their younger siblings. Visit

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