Why Prepare?

Basic Preparedness
Getting Informed
Planning and Checklists
Special Needs
Disaster Supplies Kit

Natural Hazards
Thunderstorms and lightning
Winter storms and extreme cold
Extreme heat
Landslides and debris flow

Technological Hazards
Hazardous materials incidents
Household chemical emergencies
Nuclear power plant emergencies

Biological threats
Chemical threats
Nuclear blasts
Radiological dispersion device events

Recovering from Disaster
Health and safety guidelines
Returning home
Seeking disaster assistance
Coping with disaster
Helping others

Coping with Disaster
The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business or personal property.

Understand Disaster Events
Everyone who sees or experiences a disaster is affected by it in some way

It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that of your family and close friends

Profound sadness, grief and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event

Acknowledging your feelings helps you recover

Focusing on your strengths and abilities helps you heal

Accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy

Everyone has different needs and different ways of coping

It is common to want to strike back at people who have caused great pain
Children and older adults are of special concern in the aftermath of disasters. Even individuals who experience a disaster “second hand” through exposure to extensive media coverage can be affected.
Contact local faith-based organizations, voluntary agencies or professional counselors for counseling. Additionally, FEMA and state and local governments of the affected area may provide crisis counseling assistance.

How do I Recognize Signs of Disaster Related Stress?

When adults have the following signs, they might need crisis counseling or stress management assistance:

Difficulty communicating thoughts

Difficulty sleeping

Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives

Low threshold of frustration

Increased use of drugs and alcohol

Limited attention span

Poor work performance


Stomach problems

Tunnel vision

Muffled hearing

Colds or flu-like symptoms

Disorientation or confusion

Difficulty concentrating

Reluctance to leave home


Feelings of hopelessness


Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt

Fear of crowds, strangers or being alone.

How can I Help Ease Disaster-Related Stress?

The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:

Talk with someone about your feelings

Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress

Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work

Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and meditation

Maintain a normal family and daily routine

Spend time with family and friends

Participate in memorials

Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions

Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your disaster supplies kits and updating your family disaster plan

How can I Help Children Cope with Disaster?

Disasters can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure. Whether a child has personally experienced trauma, has merely seen the event on television or has heard it discussed by adults, it is important for parents and teachers to be informed and ready to help if reactions to stress begin to occur.
Children may respond to disaster by demonstrating fears, sadness or behavioral problems. Younger children may return to earlier behavior patterns such as bedwetting, sleep problems, and separation anxiety. Older children may also display anger, aggression, school problems or withdrawal. Some children who have only indirect contact with the disaster but witness it on television may develop distress.

Who is at Risk?

For many children, reactions to disasters are brief and represent normal reactions to abnormal events. A smaller number of children can be at risk for more enduring psychological distress as a function of three major risk factors:

Direct exposure to the disaster, such as being evacuated, observing injuries or death of others or experiencing injury along with fearing one’s life is in danger

Loss and grief: This relates to the death or serious injury of family or friends

On-going stress from the secondary effects of disaster, such as temporarily living elsewhere, loss of friends and social networks, loss of personal property, parental unemployment and costs incurred during recovery to return the family to pre-disaster life and living conditions

What Creates Vulnerabilities in Children?

In most cases, depending on the risk factors above, distressing responses are temporary. In the absence of severe threat to life, injury, loss of loved ones or secondary problems, symptoms usually diminish over time. For those that were directly exposed to the disaster, reminders of the disaster such as high winds, smoke, cloudy skies, sirens or other reminders of the disaster may cause upsetting feelings to return. Having a prior history of some type of traumatic event or severe stress may contribute to these feelings.
Children coping with disaster or emergencies are often tied to the way parents cope. They can detect adults’ fears and sadness. Parents and adults can make disasters less traumatic for children by taking steps to manage their own feelings and plans for coping. Parents are the best source of support for children in disasters. One way to establish a sense of control and to build confidence in children before a disaster is to engage and involve them in preparing a family disaster plan. After a disaster, children can contribute to a family recovery plan.

What are Typical Children’s Reactions to Disaster by Age?

Below are common reactions in children after a disaster or traumatic event.

Birth through 2 years
When children are pre-verbal and experience a trauma, they do not have the words to describe the event or their feelings. However, they can retain memories of particular sights, sounds or smells. Infants may react to trauma by being irritable, crying more than usual or wanting to be held and cuddled. The biggest influence on children of this age is how their parents cope. As children get older, their play may involve acting out elements of the traumatic event that occurred several years in the past and was seemingly forgotten.

Preschool - 3 through 6 years
Preschool children often feel helpless and powerless in the face of an overwhelming event. Because of their age and small size, they lack the ability to protect themselves or others. As a result, they feel intense fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers. Preschoolers cannot grasp the concept of permanent loss. They can see consequences as being reversible or permanent. In the weeks following a traumatic event, preschoolers’ play activities may reenact the incident or the disaster over and over again.

School age - 7 through 10 years
The school-age child has the ability to understand the permanence of loss. Some children become intensely preoccupied with the details of a traumatic event and want to talk about it continually. This preoccupation can interfere with the child’s concentration at school and academic performance may decline. They may display a wide range of reactions or specific fears of the disaster happening again, guilt over action or inaction during the disaster, anger that the event was not prevented or fantasies of playing rescuer.

Pre-adolescence to adolescence - 11 through 18 years
As children grow older, they develop a more sophisticated understanding of the disaster event. Their responses are more similar to adults. Teenagers may become involved in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors. Others can become fearful of leaving home and avoid previous levels of activities. Much of adolescence is focused on moving out into the world. After a trauma, the view of the world can seem more dangerous and unsafe. A teenager may feel overwhelmed by intense emotions and yet feel unable to discuss them with others.

How do I Meet a Child’s Emotional Needs?

Children’s reactions are influenced by the behavior, thoughts and feelings of adults. Adults should encourage children and adolescents to share their thoughts and feelings about the incident. Clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger by listening to children’s concerns and answering questions. Maintain a sense of calm by validating children’s concerns and perceptions and with discussion of concrete plans for safety.
Listen to what the child is saying. If a young child is asking questions about the event, answer them simply without the elaboration needed for an older child or adult. Some children are comforted by knowing more or less information than others; decide what level of information your particular child needs. If a child has difficulty expressing feelings, allow the child to draw a picture or tell a story of what happened.
Try to understand what is causing anxieties and fears. Be aware that following a disaster, children are most afraid that:
The event will happen again

Someone close to them will be killed or injured

They will be left alone or separated from the family

How can I Reassure My Children after a Disaster?

Suggestions to help reassure children include the following:

Personal contact is reassuring

Calmly provide factual information about the recent disaster and current plans for insuring their safety along with recovery plans

Encourage your children to talk about their feelings

Spend extra time with your children

Re-establish your daily routine for work, school, play, meals and rest

Involve your children by giving them specific chores to help them feel they are helping to restore family and community life

Do not put excessive pressure on children

Praise and recognize responsible behavior

Understand that your children will have a range of reactions to disasters

Encourage your children to help update your family disaster plan
If you have tried to create a reassuring environment by following the steps above, but your child continues to exhibit stress, if the reactions worsen over time or if they cause interference with daily behavior at school, at home or with other relationships, it may be necessary to talk to a professional. You can get professional help from the child’s primary care physician, a mental health provider specializing in children’s needs or a member of the clergy.

Monitor and Limit Your Family’s Exposure to the Media

News coverage related to a disaster may elicit fear and confusion and arouse anxiety in children. This is particularly true for large-scale disasters or a terrorist event where significant property damage and loss of life has occurred. Particularly for younger children, repeated images of an event may cause them to believe the event is recurring over and over.
If parents allow children to watch television or use the Internet where images or news about the disaster are shown, parents should be with them to encourage communication and provide explanations. This may also include parent’s monitoring and appropriately limiting their own exposure to anxiety-provoking information.

Use Support Networks

Parents help their children when they take steps to understand and manage their own feelings and ways of coping. They can do this by building and using social support systems of family, friends, community organizations and agencies, faith-based institutions or other resources that provides help for the family. Parents can build their own unique social support systems so that in an emergency situation or when a disaster strikes, they can be supported and helped to manage their reactions. As a result, parents will be more available to their children and better able to support them. To support their children, parents need to attend to their own needs and have a plan for their own support.
Preparing for disaster helps everyone in the family accept the fact that disasters do happen and provides an opportunity to identify and gather the resources needed to meet basic needs after disaster. Preparation helps; when people feel prepared, they cope better and so do children.