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The Lighter Side of Preparedness: Disaster Preparedness, Part 3

by Glenda Lehman Ervin

I’m bored.”

“There’s nothing to do here.”

“How much longer do we have to wait?”

No, these are not the comments from the back seat as you travel down I-77 on your summer vacation. But they could be the comments of your children, stuck in your home with no power or play dates for several days.

In the last two issues, we discussed long-term and short-term disaster preparedness on a much more serious note. But in this column we’re going to explore the lighter side of the Temporary Off Grid Existence.

(As an aside, here in Amish country we often use the term off-the-grid to refer to our neighbors who are not “attached” to the electrical grid that gives many us power. They are self-sufficient because they don’t rely on traditional forms of electric power. Hence the Off-Grid reference.)

First of all, we are going to assume that no one has been injured, all are safe, and there is nothing to do but wait, during a winter blizzard, for example. There is a major difference between a disaster, such as an earthquake, when you might need to evacuate quickly, and a short-term power outage, when waiting is the only item on your to-do-list.
Since you have surely read and followed the directions of the last two articles, you are prepared with everything you need for food, light, heat and water, even though you have no power. Right? (If not, please refer to the previous articles!)

But keeping the children calm and involved is also part of the plan. Children depend on their daily routines. They wake up, eat breakfast, study their lessons, play with friends and eat their meals, normally at the same time each day. In the evening they are used to having light and entertainment available at the flick of a switch. Even the loss of a beloved night-light can cause stress. When an unexpected power outage hits, it can worry the most capable child.

How you react to a power outage is a good measure of how your children will react. Do you panic and run around the house looking for flashlights? Is it treated as a catastrophe, with possible deathly consequences? Are your eyes and voice filled with fear and anxiety? When you react with alarm, it could cause your children to become unnecessarily afraid.

EXPLAIN: The first thing you should do is explain the situation, even if you are unclear about what happened. Using calm words will reassure your child that everything will be okay.

LISTEN: Ask the children what is uppermost in their minds about the power outage. It might be something unexpected such as “How will I feed my dog in the dark?” Even if their concerns cannot be addressed directly, the fact that they are voiced gives children a sense of calm.

LOOK: Get and organize your preparedness kit, so it is at hand if you need to leave unexpectedly. You should have hand-cranked flashlights and a radio, so you have light and information about the source of an outage.

PLAN: Take a few moments to go over the emergency plan. For example, if there is a major thunderstorm that knocks out power and you are in a flood-prone area, you can talk about where you will go, how you will stay together and what each family member’s responsibility is. The key is to state the plan, not overact.

ACT NORMAL: If you have a source of light and you normally sit at the table for each meal, go ahead and set the table, say grace and eat your dinner, even if it is just canned peaches and Ritz crackers.
So the children are calm, you are relaxed, but it appears the power will be out for some time. What to do next?

HEAD OUTSIDE: If it is during the day, and the weather outside isn’t frightful, consider sending the children outside to play. Not only will this restore a sense of order to their day, it will give you a chance to do what needs to be done.

CAMP OUT BUT IN: If it is cold outside and not appropriate for your children, consider camping out in. Who doesn’t love hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire? Assuming your fireplace/chimney or wood-burning stove is in working order, start a fire, not only for atmosphere, but of course, for warmth. Don’t forget to open the flue.
You can sing camp songs, tell slightly scary stories, or just take a little nap, all in the warmth of your fire.

BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR: Think about those living around you that might need help. Is there a senior living alone that might need a visit? Perhaps a family with a number of small children lives down the road could use a hand?

Cleaning out a desk or junk drawer (doesn’t every house have one of these) is probably not at the top of your list, but hey, you don’t have anything else to do. You might find a restaurant coupon that vanished two months ago, your favorite pen, or that red bow your daughter always liked to wear in her hair.

GET CREATIVE: Shadow puppets are always fun. How about the tried and true “who can be quiet the longest?” game. Twenty Questions, Eye Spy and all the other “car” games also work well, because the little ones can jump and down, or stretch their legs as needed. Have you ever played the Stop and Start Story Game? It’s simple, and a great way to use our imagination. Mom or Dad starts a story, setting up a possible next step with a fun main character. Then each child has either three sentences, or 60 sentences to tell the next part of the story and on and on the game goes.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN: Pull out a board game that hasn’t been played for a long time. Monopoly? Chess? Games that involve the mind are great ways to engage the entire family. For a great collection of old-fashioned, non-electric games, visit A yo-yo, set of marbles, wooden puzzle, or board game will keep children occupied for house.

COLLECT: Children love collections. Rocks, leaves, pens, buttons, anything that can be matched up, sorted and organized is great fun. Make it a learning experience, either using math for the little ones or science for the older ones. Better yet, have the older children work with the younger children.

Whether your outages last three hours or three days, if you can stay at home, or you have to leave, there are concrete ways and means to help your family cope. G.L.E. ■