How to Prepare Kids for Emergencies

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Extreme weather resources

When extreme weather is in full swing, we want everyone to stay safe. Here are some resources if you or a loved one are impacted by storms.

Talking to kids about emergencies and natural disasters can be tough. How do you make them feel prepared without scaring them too much? 

From house fires to hurricanes, it's important to keep your family ready and have a plan ready for when you need it the most. Start by having conversations and regularly quizzing your kids around basic points like meeting spots, essential phone numbers, and emergency supplies can help everyone feel ready. 

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Emergency kits

Helping assemble a basic emergency kit is a great way for kids to learn about preparedness. As an intro, we like this Build a Kit game.

We go into way more detail about emergency kits in our full guide.

How to prepare kids for house fires

With a few fire safety games, practice, and a little planning, your family can be ready for anything. For adult resources, check out our fire safety guide

To prepare for a house fire, your kids should know 

  • The family meeting spot 
  • Signs of a house fire 
  • The fastest route out

The family meeting spot

Establishing an emergency family meeting spot should be first on the list. It's easy to get separated in the chaos of a house fire, so having a common spot to meet can ensure everyone's accounted for. 

The best locations are familiar but far enough away from the house in case of a house fire. Your neighbor's porch, a large tree nearby, a local corner store, the end of the street, it just needs to be a safe distance and easy for your kids to get to and identify.

Signs of fire

Once they know where the family meeting spot is, teach them about the first signs of fire and when to leave the house

Teach them to recognize the smoke alarm, the smell of smoke, and the signs of fire in a home. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has some great resources for teachers, kids, and parents to practice. 

NFPA Resources for Kids

The National Fire Protection Association has lots of great resources for families. Here are a few of our favorites to get you started: 

Create and practice the escape plan

As a family, establish an escape plan out of different rooms and levels of the house. Your kids should especially know the safest way out of their own bedrooms and how to help siblings and pets in an emergency. 

  1. Draw a simple layout of your home and the family meeting place on a piece of paper. 
  2. Mark every outside door and window in green.
  3. Draw a small X inside your child’s bedroom.
  4. Show your kids the fastest route out of their bedrooms by tracing the path with your finger. Repeat this for every bedroom. 
  5. Ask your child to trace the path with a marker. This will be their main escape route. 

Next, talk about what to do if the path to an exit is blocked.

  1. Draw windows on the layout and explain that they can be used as an exit in an emergency.
  2. Sprinkle paprika or another spice over the drawing to represent fire. They should know at least two routes out of their room in case the first is blocked.
  3. Try adding "fires" in different places around your home layout to help them practice these routes. 

Finally, make sure they understand to “get low and go,” which involves crawling below the smoke to avoid inhaling deadly gases. The Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue explains this in a quick video you can all watch together.

Make fire drills more fun

While house fires are a serious matter, you can make fire safety less scary by making fire drills a game. This can make it more fun and memorable for kids to learn basic fire safety. 

  • Let kids start in their bedrooms with the doors closed. 
  • Signal the start of the game with a smoke alarm or the sound of a fire alarm.
  • Give them points for each escape best practice: feeling closed doors for heat, practicing "get low and go", and getting to the meeting place.
  • You can block doors and windows to help them adjust their route in real time and practice using different exits. 

Repeat with variations a few times every year. Playing this game keeps them ready without scaring them too much about fire and emergency prepareness. 

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Fire safety for kids with special needs

Children who use mobility aids may have trouble with “get low and go” and other house fire evacuation strategies. Fireproof their room to buy time until firefighters arrive:

  • Install a bedside emergency button that your child can use to call for help.
  • Keep a portable fire extinguisher within reach of their bed.
  • Install a sprinkler system in your child’s bedroom.
  • Keep a fire suppression blanket in the room and have your child practice wrapping themselves in it.
  • If possible, install an exterior door in their bedroom so they have an accessible second exit.
  • Use fire alarm bed shakers for children with hearing impairments.

Try these other activities to round out your kid’s fire safety education:

Play Video

Our kid-friendly checklist makes a great review sheet:

More fire safety resources for kids

How to prepare kids for power outages

Power outages aren’t always associated with bad weather or natural disasters, but that doesn’t make them any less scary or disorienting for kids. Plus, power outages can lead to some safety hazards, such as spoiled food or uncomfortable temperatures in the home.

Explain what a power outage means

Talk to your kids about electricity, and explain how it powers many things around your home through cables. The cables go all the way to a power plant. If a cable is damaged, electricity can’t reach your home or even your neighbor’s home. Your TV, phone chargers, and light switches won’t work.

Older kids might like a more detailed explanation. Watch this Learning Junction video together to understand where electricity comes from and how it works.

We like the Red Cross’s power outage video as a quick intro for younger kids. There’s also a great Peppa Pig episode that covers this topic, but you may need to explain some terminology differences (such as “torch” and “power cut”) from this UK-based show.

Finally, explain that batteries store electricity and allow us to power items for a short period of time without cables.

Create a power outage kit

Ask your kids to help you assemble a power outage kit in case of emergencies:

  • Flashlights
  • Radio
  • Alarm clocks
  • Battery-powered phone chargers
  • Extra batteries
  • Boredom-busting activities, like a deck of cards or a special book

Your kid can help you gather up supplies from around the house and place them in the kit.

Talk about food safety

Next, head into the kitchen. Explain that some foods can make us sick if they aren’t stored in a cool place, like the fridge. Fridges don’t work without electricity. We need a backup plan: ice. 

Have your kid help you fill freezer bags with water and place them in the freezer. Explain that the ice turns the fridge into a large cooler, keeping our food safe for a longer period of time.

Tell your kid it’s important to ask permission before opening the fridge or freezer during a power outage. Cold air escapes when the door is open, so we have to know exactly what we want before opening the door. No dawdling.

Add shelf-stable foods to your power outage kit

Talk about how the microwave, toaster, and oven all rely on electricity too, so we can’t heat things up when the power’s out.

Explore the pantry together. If your child is old enough, ask them to find at least three foods that could be prepared without electricity.

It helps to do a little grocery shopping in advance so there are a few options for your kid to choose from. Check out our step-by-step emergency food planning guide for ideas.

Place the food in your power-outage kit so it’s not accidentally eaten in the meantime.

Talk about evacuating to a cooling center or shelter

Prepare your kid for the possibility of evacuating during a power outage due to extreme heat or cold. Depending on the extent of the outage, you might be able to stay at a relative’s house or a hotel, but you might need to go to a shelter or cooling center instead.

This animated story shows kids what to expect at an American Red Cross shelter. Kids can also read the same story.

More power outage resources for kids

How to prepare kids for natural disasters

It seems like natural disasters are worse and more frequent these days. So prepare your kids by focusing on common threats in your area. (We recommend Columbia University's resource here.

Whether your area's prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or other hazards, it's important to keep your whole household ready. We've got a list of books, games, and other resources for your kids to try out based on hazards in your area. 

Be prepared for winter weather

Winter weather is unpredictable, but it helps everyone in the family if you talk about what to expect in advance. 

Stay on top of the latest winter weather advisories, watches, and warnings to keep your home and loved ones as safe as possible.

Check out our specific advice about how to weather a winter storm warning and other resources:

How to prepare kids for earthquakes

Teach your child to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake.

  • Drop to the ground so you do not fall over and injure yourself.
  • Crawl under a sturdy table for cover and protection from falling objects.
  • Hold on to the table leg.

If you’re outside when the shaking starts, try to move into an open area away from powerlines and walls.

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Earthquake safety for kids with limited mobility 

Kids who use wheelchairs and walkers with seats should practice “lock, cover, and hold on” for earthquake preparedness.

  • Lock the chair in place.
  • Cover head and neck with hands or a book while bending forward.
  • Hold on to your chair or walker.

We recommend watching this Prepare with Pedro video with your child as an introduction to earthquake preparedness. Then, walk around your home identifying pieces of furniture that would be safe to hide under. Find the safest open space in your yard too.

Ask your child to point out furniture or objects that could tip over in an earthquake. Make a point of securing these with straps. Let your child participate in an age-appropriate way.

Here are some other activities to help kids learn about earthquake safety:

How to prepare kids for floods

In case a flash flood happens while your child is away from home, teach them the mantra, “Turn around, don’t drown.”

  • Never play in or near flooded areas.
  • Do not try to cross a flooded street, whether in a car, on a bike, or on foot.
  • Move to higher ground.

If your child is at home with you when there’s a flood warning, they can help you move pets, emergency kits, and precious items upstairs. Practice this ahead of time so your kid knows what to grab and where to take it. Keep enough life jackets upstairs for every person in your home.

Kids should also know that floodwaters contain bacteria. They shouldn’t touch floodwater or anything that’s been touched by it. And they definitely shouldn’t drink it.

To help your child learn more about floods, check out these resources:

How to prepare kids for hurricanes

Watch this Rocket’s Rules video with your kid as an intro to hurricanes. Explain that it’s a big storm that tends to cause power outages, flooding, and tornado-like winds, so it’s important to prepare for more than one kind of emergency.

Fortunately, we usually know ahead of time that a hurricane is on its way. We can choose to evacuate to an area out of the storm’s path, or we can “shelter in place” in our home.

Talk about where you’ll go if you decide to evacuate. Maybe it’s a friend’s home outside the hurricane’s path. You might go to a shelter if you live in a trailer home or in an area prone to flooding.

Discuss the importance of protecting your home if you shelter in place. Let your kid know that they need to follow directions and help with these activities:

  • Bringing toys and furniture inside so they don’t blow away
  • Filling bags with sand to stop water from entering through doorways
  • Boarding up windows to prevent them from breaking (kids can help hand you tools)
  • Carrying items upstairs and away from potential floodwater
  • Rounding up pets and placing them in a central room of the home

Realize that sheltering in place can cause your kid to worry a lot. It’s hard to relax when we know something scary is about to happen. Use these resources to teach your kids coping skills:

Here are some other resources to prepare kids for hurricanes:

How to prepare kids for tornadoes

Watch this SciShow Kids video with your child for an intro to tornadoes that won’t give them nightmares. Then watch this brief video about how to stay safe during a tornado.

Your kid might be familiar with tornado drills at school. Ask how they know when there’s a tornado. They should say there’s a really loud siren that starts the drill. Explain that this siren can be heard anywhere and warns everyone—not just school kids—to seek shelter from a tornado.

Talk about where to go if there’s a tornado. The best place is a basement, and the second-best place is an interior closet on the ground floor.

Practice going to your shelter and crouching to protect your head and neck until your child feels confident about the process.

  • Stay away from windows and falling objects.
  • Hide under a sturdy piece of furniture if possible and hold on.
  • Cover your head and neck with a book if there’s no other shelter.

Explain that tornadoes often cause power outages, so it’s smart to have a power outage  emergency kit with you in your shelter. If your home doesn’t have a suitable shelter or if tornadoes are a significant threat in your area, keep a spare set of helmets with your emergency kit.

These resources offer more info and tips for tornado safety:

How to prepare kids for tsunamis

Huge ocean waves called tsunamis can occur along any coast and at any time of year. There’s only one thing to do when there’s a tsunami: move to higher ground.

Watch this tsunami preparedness video with your kid as an introduction. Older kids can learn the science of tsunamis by watching this Dr. Binocs video.

Teach your child to recognize the signs of a tsunami so they’ll have as much time as possible to move to higher ground.

Tsunami warning signs may include the following:

  • Rapidly receding ocean water (the beach will look a lot bigger all of a sudden)
  • Fish stranded on the beach
  • A loud roar coming from the ocean
  • An earthquake

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends moving to one of the following areas:

  • Third floor (or higher) of a sturdy building
  • One mile inland
  • At least 100 feet above sea level

Ask your kid to list out the areas around town where they spend most of their time. Help them locate these areas on a map.

If any of them are less than one mile from the coast and less than 100 feet above sea level, discuss the best place to go during a tsunami. Mark those on a map and draw the fastest routes. Then, practice walking those routes with your kid.

Use these resources to reinforce your tsunami lesson:

How to prepare kids for wildfires

If a wildfire’s on its way, older kids can help pack emergency kits, round up pets for evacuation, and rake up flammable materials from at least 10 feet around the home. Give younger kids a job like spraying water all over the lawn around the home. It keeps them close by, preoccupied, and might even help protect your home from fire damage.

Everyone should wear N95 particulate respirators to protect their lungs from wildfire smoke. 

Kids may feel anxious during a wildfire evacuation. Check out these coping skills resources and practice some of the calming techniques before your kid needs them:

Sometimes kids are scared simply because they don’t know what’s going on. Use these educational resources to help them learn more about wildfires:

How to prepare kids for volcanic eruptions

As with wildfires, preparing kids for volcanic eruptions involves education and coping strategies.

Watch this simple volcanic preparedness video with younger kids. For older kids interested in a more detailed explanation of volcanic dangers, check out this Education World video.

Before you sit down with your kid to discuss volcanic eruptions, look up the volcano closest to your home. Consider that the Mount St. Helens eruption decimated land up to 19 miles away. Your home is probably more than 19 miles away from the nearest volcano. Map it to be sure.

This simple comparison can help assure your child that their home isn’t going to get blasted away by a volcano. Instead, you’re more likely to get showered by volcanic ash. You can definitely prepare for that.

  • Add N95 respirator masks and safety goggles to your emergency kit to help your family see and breathe in ashy conditions.
  • Talk about how you’ll watch the news or listen to the radio to determine if you need to evacuate based on heavy ashfall, lava flows, or dangerous gases.
  • Print out a map and trace a few routes out of town to a higher elevation. Lava and ash will collect in valleys, so it’s important to stay up high.

Revisit these resources:

How to prepare kids for medical emergencies

Teach your kid when and how to dial 911. This simple lesson might save your life if you end up passing out and can’t call yourself. Watch this 911 introductory video together to get started.

When to call 911

Kids should only call 911 when there’s an emergency. Something is an emergency when someone’s life is in danger or they’re really hurt and need help fast. Be sure to give lots of examples, especially for younger kids.

Test their comprehension by asking if it’s okay to call 911 in the following scenarios:

  • Someone is unconscious or “can’t wake up” (YES)
  • Someone is choking (YES)
  • They’re bored and want to talk to someone (NO)
  • A building is on fire (YES)
  • They want to practice dialing 911 (NO)
  • Someone scraped their knee (NO)
  • Someone broke a neighbor’s window and went inside (YES)
  • A stranger offers to give them a ride (YES)
  • They need help with their homework (NO)
  • A car crashed into a tree (YES)
  • Someone is following them (YES)
  • Their dog is hurt (NO—911 is only for people)
  • Someone eats or drinks something poisonous (YES)

Just because a kid shouldn’t dial 911 in a certain situation doesn’t mean they can’t get help from someone else. Talk about other people your child knows who would be happy to help with a scraped knee, homework, or hurt dog when you’re not around. Add their names and phone numbers to this emergency contact form and keep it on the fridge.

If your kid already has a phone or a smartwatch, make sure these emergency numbers are in their contact list too.

How to dial 911

Dialing 911 may seem straightforward for adults, but kids just learning to read may need help recognizing the numbers and their location on the keypad. Draw a keypad and practice touching each button in order. Explain that some phones (i.e., cell phones) have an extra “call” button that must be pressed after dialing the number.

Kids should stay calm and speak clearly when answering the 911 operator’s questions:

  • What is your emergency?
  • Do you need police, fire, or ambulance?
  • Where is the location of the emergency?
  • What is your name?

Help younger kids memorize their home address. Write it down on their emergency contact sheet or this Sesame Street worksheet.

Role-play a 911 call with your kid to help them practice. Set the scene: they’ve noticed that a neighbor’s house is on fire. And . . . action!

Wind down from this activity by snuggling up and reading What If You Need to Call 911? by Anara Guard.

Teaching kids first aid

Kids can (and should) learn the following first-aid activities once they’re around age 8 or 9:

We recommend contacting your local Red Cross chapter for hands-on youth training.

More disaster preparedness resources for kids

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like,, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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