In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina disrupted an entire region of our nation. Not only were communities destroyed, but families were literally ripped apart. In the aftermath of Katrina and Hurricane Rita that followed, over 5,000 children were separated from their parents across the region. In mid-March 2006, the last missing child, a 4-year old girl, was reunited with her family. Why did it take six months to return the last missing child to her family? Because caregivers, children, and working parents were evacuated all over the south. Not necessarily in the same direction. Sometimes not to the same state. Some small children became separated from parents during transit or in temporary shelters. And a complicating factor was that the smaller children couldn’t give any information about their parent’s name, or even their own names.
There are many ways you can prevent losing a child in the chaos of disaster. If the child is old enough to speak, teach them their name, your name and, if possible, a phone number, including area code.
Put an Emergency Contact Information card in your purse or wallet, every school child’s backpack or bag, and every diaper bag. Every member of the family should have an Emergency Contact Information card.
At the bottom of this post there is a page you can print out with four cards on it. You can fold the Emergency Contact Information card in half and laminate it, take it to an office supply store and have them laminate it, get self-stick laminated pockets to seal it in, use clear contact paper, or put it in an envelope. Use pencil or ball point pen, so the writing doesn’t run if it gets wet.
You can indicate medical conditions, medication taken regularly, allergies, or other important information specific to you or your child. You might want to include a doctor’s name and phone number if the individual has a chronic health challenge.
Why an out-of-area contact? Because during a disaster, local phone service is sometimes damaged or overwhelmed by the great number of people trying to access the system at once. Here’s what you can do to solve the problem of diminished or no local service:
-Ask a friend or family member who lives out of the area or out of your state to be your contact person. Many times, even if local service is interrupted, long distance service still works.
-Fill out an Emergency Contact Information card and make sure every family member carries one, even the baby.
-If calls aren’t going through to your out-of-area contact, there’s a good chance a short text will. Try that if the lines are tied up.
-If you can’t get through by phone, try sending a brief e-mail to your contact indicating that you’re safe and your location.
-At some emergency centers, there are ham radio operators who volunteer to try and get messages through to other locations to be sent on to your contact.
Being the geek that I am, I recently found a product on Amazon that I’m planning on trying out. It’s called Dynotag® Web/GPS Enabled QR Code Smart Tags . You can get them in stickers, cards, zipper pulls, metal dog tags, pet tags, and luggage tags. For Christmas, I’m planning on creating a card for each child and grandchild in my family and putting one of these stickers on each card with instructions on how to activate it. Their emergency information is stored in the cloud and readable with a smart phone or with access to the web. (Just for clarity’s sake, I want you to know I’m an “Amazon Associate” and will get a small percentage of the sale of these products if you click through from this site).
Having said all this, the reality is that you need nothing more than a simple index card with the important information on it, so if you are separated from other family members you have a way to reconnect.
Share this with your family and friends at school events, family reunions, church gatherings, play dates, sports events, neighborhood meetings, or where ever parents gather. Surviving a disaster is a life-changing event. Being separated from a child increases the trauma for everyone.
I know the panic of losing a child in a store. The idea of being separated from a little one during an active disaster sends terror through my heart. There are never any guarantees in a disaster situation, but by filling out an emergency information contact card, you’re doing everything in your power to keep your family safe and together.