How can parents and children prepare for a natural disaster?

Published on Wednesday, 14 October 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Parents know a thing or two about forward-planning. We’re practised in the art of packing snack boxes and scheduling naps, and when it comes to natural disasters, our planning and preparation skills are more important than ever. 

Earthquakes, tsunami and other natural hazards can happen suddenly, and although we can’t predict these emergencies, we can take steps to get ready for them.

For starters, ShakeOut is an annual event which helps New Zealanders prepare for earthquakes and tsunami. It’s happening at 9.30am, tomorrow, 15 October, and to see how your family can prepare for the best and plan for the worst on that day, and every day, we spoke with the National Emergency Management Agency Te Rākau Whakamarumaru.  

Why is it so important that children and parents get involved with ShakeOut?

We know that when kids are involved in preparing for emergencies and learning about natural hazards, they encourage their families to be more prepared and play a more active role in responding to and recovering from emergencies.

Taking part in ShakeOut is a great way for both kids and parents to learn the right actions to take before, during and after an earthquake and tsunami, and getting involved in ShakeOut is easy.

You just sign up at – it only takes two minutes – and on Thursday, 15 October, all you need to do is, Drop, Cover and Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

For those unfamiliar with the term, what is a Drop, Cover and Hold?

Drop, Cover and Hold is the right action to take in an earthquake. It stops you being knocked over, makes you a smaller target for falling and flying objects, and protects your head, neck and vital organs.

To do a Drop, Cover and Hold, you simply need to:

  • DROP down on your hands and knees. This protects you from falling, but lets you move if you need to.
  • COVER your head and neck (or your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk (if it is within a few steps of you). If there is no shelter nearby, then cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD on to your shelter (or your position to protect your head and neck) until the shaking stops. If the shaking shifts your shelter around, move with it.

This video shows what Drop, Cover and Hold looks like in action.

How can we prepare for a tsunami during ShakeOut?

If you’re in a tsunami evacuation zone, then you can practise your tsunami hīkoi on 15 October as well. A tsunami hīkoi is a walk that takes you along your tsunami evacuation route, either inland or towards high ground.

Remember: Long or Strong, Get Gone.

It’s important that you can recognise the natural warning signs of a tsunami and act on them quickly.

For a local tsunami, which could arrive in minutes, there won’t be time for an official warning, so if you are near a shore and experience any of the following, take action:

  • You feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand, or a long earthquake that lasts more than a minute
  • You see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • You hear loud or unusual noises from the sea.

Drop, Cover and Hold during the shaking. As soon as the shaking stops, move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as you can.

If a young child is worried about the possibility of an earthquake or tsunami, how can parents reassure them?

It’s important to talk to your young child in an honest, but not scary, way about:

  • What might happen in an emergency
  • What you can do to keep safe, and
  • What your plan is if you can’t get home. 

This can help to reduce fear and anxiety and it helps everyone know how to respond.

The more involved your child is, the less scared they will be when an emergency does happen, so it’s recommended that you:

  • Involve your child in planning for an emergency by giving them small tasks to do, e.g. checking the date on your stored water or testing that the torch is working.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions.
  • Provide an opportunity for them to express their feelings by talking or drawing.
  • Remind them that it can be a frightening experience for everyone, but that it will get better and there will be people around to help.

The Ministry of Health has lots of advice to help parents support children, and Turtle Safe is an educational DVD that’s been developed specifically to teach preschool children what to do if they’re inside or outdoors when an earthquake occurs.

There are also online games available that can help kids learn about different emergencies and how to get ready for them.

What are some simple ways that we can make the family home safer in an earthquake?

Certain objects in your home can cause damage or injury during an earthquake and we suggest that everyone lessens the impact of falling items by taking action before a quake hits.

This means checking around your home for items that could topple or shift in an earthquake or other natural disaster, including:

  • Tall and heavy furniture
  • Brick and concrete chimneys
  • Unsecured hot water cylinders
  • Unsecured appliances, and
  • Valuables that might break or move.

You should fix and fasten any loose items in and around your home. Your local hardware shop will have what you need to do this, and although brackets and other fasteners will be needed for bigger items, even something as simple as Blu-Tack will help you secure smaller valuables. Make sure you have secure hooks for picture frames, too.

If there are any larger fixes that you can’t do yourself, then a builder or tradesperson can help with this, and there’s more information about making your home safe here.

Earthquakes and tsunami aren’t the only hazards Kiwis may face. What other hazards do we need to think about, and how can we prepare for them?

In New Zealand, we have a lot of natural hazards. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, snow, storms, tsunami, volcanic activity and other hazards can happen any time and often without warning.

The best way to get ready for any emergency is to figure out what supplies you need and make a plan to get your family through. Think about the things you require every day, and make sure you can find these supplies in a hurry and/or in the dark:

  • Water for three days or more (this equates to at least nine litres of water for every person)
  • Long-lasting food that doesn’t need cooking (unless you have a camping stove or gas BBQ) and food for babies and pets
  • Toilet paper and large plastic buckets for an emergency toilet, and
  • Dust masks and work gloves.

Make sure you have grab bags ready for everyone in your family. Each bag should have warm clothes, a bottle of water, snacks, copies of important documents and photo ID. Remember any medications you might need and keep your first aid kit, torch, radio and batteries somewhere you can grab them in a hurry.

To find out more about how you can prepare for a specific emergency, you can visit the Get Ready website

Babies and young children need special care and attention, especially in an emergency. What advice do you have for parents of under-fives?

Babies are more at risk of becoming dehydrated or getting an infection, so they need special care and attention. If you have an infant, it’s important that you have emergency supplies ready to keep them safe and well, and have a plan for what you’ll do in the case of an earthquake, tsunami or other natural disaster.

In an emergency, roads and shops may be closed, so you’ll need to have supplies to get your baby through. This list of emergency supplies will be enough for three to five days, and it will help you look after your baby when you don’t have water or power:

  • 30 disposable nappies
  • Baby wipes
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • Rubbish bags for dirty nappies
  • Any medicines or creams your baby needs
  • Disposable gloves, and
  • Spare clothes, a blanket or special toy.

Think about how you’ll feed them in an emergency and make sure you have supplies for your baby in a grab bag, in case you need to leave home in a hurry. If your baby often stays with family or carers, organise some emergency supplies at their place as well.

If your child attends an early childhood education service or school, then make sure their service or school has a list of three people who can pick your child up if you can’t get there.

And if you need to evacuate, make sure everyone in your family knows where to go, in case you’re not all together. Your evacuation place will probably be with friends or family, so make sure they know your plans.

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