8 Emergency Preparedness Drills to Do with Your Kids

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If your kids go to school, they have undoubtedly participated in a school fire drill. Most bus riders have gone through a bus evacuation drill out the back emergency door. In 2015/16, 95 percent of American public schools conducted mock lockdown scenario student preparedness drills in classrooms.

But have you had a fire drill in your own home?

Have you talked about how and when to exit your car after an accident?

Do they know what to do in case there is a shooter at the mall?

Parents tend to TELL their kids what to do instead of SHOW them. We say that in case of fire, we will meet at the big oak tree across the street. What we don’t often do is show them how to actually get to that oak tree. We TELL our kids, “Don’t get in a car with strangers,” but we don’t SHOW them how to fight back if someone grabs them.

As children get old enough to be home or out in public on their own, these drills become even more important because they will not have you to give instructions in an emergency. We need to prepare them, using active drills, to protect and potentially save their own lives. Here are 8 emergency preparedness drills to practice with your kids.

image: mother and children watching house burn; preparedness drills

House Fire

It’s early in the morning. The kids are still asleep and the sun is just starting to rise. I’ve woken to use the restroom but decide since I’m up, that it’s a great time for a drill.

I poke the test button for the smoke detector, go into my daughter’s bedroom, and yell, “FIRE DRILL! FIRE DRILL! FIRE DRILL!” She realizes what is happening and rolls out of bed. She hurries to the door and places her hand on it. “The door is hot!” I shout. She turns to the window, unlatches and opens it, removes the screen, and crawls out the window.

I then proceed to my son’s room. He feels the door for heat. “The door is not hot!” He grabs a shirt to cover his mouth, opens the door, and begins to low crawl down the hallway. He makes it all the way to the front door, unlocks it, and goes outside to our meeting point across the street where his sister is already waiting.

After the drill, we talk about the possibility of going to a neighbor to call 911 and what, if anything, they could have done differently.

Sometimes during a drill, I throw a curve ball. “The windows are stuck! You can’t get them open!” We then talk about it being okay to use a chair to break the window and place a blanket over the window sill to prevent cuts from broken glass. I have them pick up a chair and practice swinging it so they get an idea of how heavy it is and the kind of force they would need to use. Another test: “The cat is meowing in the hallway!” As much as we love them, their job is NOT to go after the pets.

Uncovering Issues

Drills are great for uncovering problems and weaknesses you may not realize by just doing “thought exercises.” For example, the first time we ran through this drill, I learned that not only did my daughter not know how to work the window locks, but that her skinny arms weren’t strong enough to actually open the window. She ended up practicing opening the window every few days until she figured out a way to leverage her body weight and get them open.

If you live in a two-story home, you should have a fire ladder in each upstairs bedroom. Each room needs one because the fire may block passage out of the room. Now, have you actually ever used it? Don’t just have it sitting in the box hoping you’ll never need it. You do not want your child to try to figure out how to use it with a fire burning outside the door. 

Some fire ladders are single-use for emergencies only while others are multi-use and can actually be used in a full drill to climb out your window. Even with a single-use ladder, you can show your children how to attach it to a window sill, what steps to take to deploy it, and tips for climbing out the window to safety. With a multi-use ladder, practicing climbing to the ground will reduce the level of fear of the ladder itself during a true emergency. 

Address “The Scary Firefighter” Possibility

Children, young ones especially, need to be reminded that firefighters may look scary with all their gear on. Show them what a firefighter looks like and teach them that there is no such thing as a “stranger” when it comes to someone helping them out of a fire or other disaster. They should go with anyone who is there to rescue them.

Teach Fire Prevention Measures

Don’t just show your kids the multiple ways to get out of the house if it is on fire. Also, show them all the ways your home is protected to prevent fire including their own role in fire safety. Things like:

  • Show them the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and explain how they work.
  • Teach them the importance of not leaving the kitchen when something is cooking on the stovetop and unplugging curling irons and toasters.
  • Remind kids that matches, lighters, and candles are not toys and shouldn’t be used except with permission from an adult.
  • Teach how to properly use and extinguish matches, candles, and lighters.

Tornado/Earthquake/Natural Disaster

These preparedness drills follow the same line of thinking as the fire drill. Even if your area isn’t prone to these types of disasters, teaching your children how to respond to them is still a good idea. Show them some short videos on tornado and storm safety, teach them safe earthquake response, and then later start a drill when they aren’t expecting it.

Stranger Danger

Don’t get in a car with strangers.” It’s good advice, but does your child know how to fight off a larger adult who has grabbed them? You’ve probably also taught your children not to hit or kick or bite. But does that include against strangers who are trying to abduct them?

Be sure your children understand that any level of violence from them is acceptable when fighting off someone who is trying to hurt them. Find self-defense for kids’ classes in your town so they can not only learn practical ways to fight back, but they can also practice hitting and kicking. Believe it or not, most people, adults included, don’t know how to effectively hit another person in their own defense.

Car Accident

I was in a fairly serious car accident a few years ago. Fortunately, my children were not in the car with me, and no one was badly hurt. Three cars were smashed up, though. In the immediate moments after the crash, I sat there dumbfounded and needed to be given instructions to get out of the car. This experience showed me I needed to discuss this with the kids.

If we are in an accident, what should you do? If the driver or another adult is able to give instruction, kids are to comply.

But what if the adult is unconscious or otherwise unable to help? If you are able, undo your seat belts and get yourself and your siblings out of the car together. WATCH FOR OTHER CARS when leaving the vehicle. If someone is very injured, leave them in place and get help.

If they learn nothing else, the two rules for a car accident are: if you’re able to leave the vehicle, do so… and watch out for other cars.

Active Shooter Preparedness Drills

This is the hardest one for a lot of families. We worry about scaring our children. We don’t want to even think about our children being in an active shooter situation. But teaching your kids what gunfire sounds like, the difference between hiding and taking cover, and what to do if they find themselves in this situation is important. It’s a preparedness drill that could mean the difference between life and death.

The run-hide-barricade-attack training response is good for older children in school who will potentially have the ability to make their own decisions in an active shooter scenario. It is also good information for all children who find themselves at other public places (like malls, sporting events, restaurants, etc) when a shooter arrives.

Sometimes when we are in a store or restaurant, I will ask my kids, “If you heard gunshots right now, what would you do?” Depending on their answers and the situation, I might ask additional questions to get them thinking about a plan. For yourself, or for older children, consider this short video training for active shooter response.

Home Invader

What’s one of the cardinal rules when we leave children at home on their own? Don’t open the door to strangers!

But have you told your children what to do if a stranger comes in anyway? Do they have an evacuation plan? As soon as someone starts to force their way into the house, your children should leave out another door, preferably on the other side of the home, and then go to a trusted neighbor for help.

If they cannot leave the house for some reason, grabbing a phone and hiding while calling 911 is the best response. Again, don’t just talk about what to do. Actually, practice running out an alternate door and going from room to room to identify good hiding places. These training drills build muscle memory and make it more likely they will remember what to do when they’re in danger.

CPR and First Aid

My children have been very fortunate to be able to participate in the “Be Ready Camp” sponsored by the State of Alabama. One of the most important things they learned was basic first aid. They were taught with a hands-on approach how to stop bleeding, splint a broken bone, and more.

Children can also learn CPR and use it effectively. If you can’t find a local class that will teach children, talk to your child’s school about teaching a course to students or purchase a kit to bring home to teach your kids yourself.

Social Preparedness

This is a new one for my family. While I had given the “Say no to drugs” and “Don’t get into a car with someone who has been drinking” lectures, we hadn’t had real, applicable discussions about these situations.

I read an article recently that talked about this very thing and it was a light bulb moment for me. We can’t just TELL our kids not to drink, instead, we must help them find the words to use when the situation happens. Kids often want to say no, but they just don’t know how. I won’t rehash the whole article, but go read it. Failing to know what to do in these social situations can lead to a personal or family disaster just as devastating as any of the other incidents mentioned here.

Children are capable of handling more information at an earlier age than many parents give them credit for. We’ve all heard of the stories where a very young child calls 911 (as in the remarkable story in the video below), or a child who has been taught survival techniques is able to save their own life. You know your child better than anyone else. Keep the lessons and skills age appropriate.

Preparedness Drills are Not Meant to Scare

The idea is not to scare your children or have their thoughts constantly filled with “what ifs.” The discussions and drills I have with my family may seem extreme to some, but it works for us and my kids are well-adjusted, prepared individuals. Decide how much preparedness you want to teach your own kids and begin to drill them. Without the practice drills, the information might be lost in time. Every skill you give them is one that might save their lives.

What kind of preparedness drills have you done with your kids?

Originally published August 14, 2017; updated and revised by Team Survival Mom.

20 thoughts on “8 Emergency Preparedness Drills to Do with Your Kids”

  1. I love the idea of a car accident drill! It’s one I have never heard but as soon as I read it- of course! It’s something that stats say is such a realistic emergency and I have never heard of someone having a drill for it.

  2. I went over what to do in case of a fire with my family. I was very specific about getting out of the house and where to meet. That same night I set off the smoke alarm to practice what we had talked about. nobody woke up.

    1. The Survival Mom

      It’s a well-known fact that kids can sleep through fire alarms! You can find an alarm on Amazon that uses a voice recording — your voice saying, “There’s a fire in the house. Get out and go to the meeting place,” or something like that. Apparently, that has a better chance of waking kids up.

  3. This is a great information on how to teach kids in case of emergency. At least now kids will become more alert in any situations. You did a great job, thank you.

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  5. Thank you for continuing to put so much emphasis on SHOW not just TELL! This is the most crucial step in helping your family prepare for emergencies.

  6. My mother has been adamant about preparedness in my family since I was very little. My brothers and I have recently been randomly asked the question, “What would you do if an active shooter entered this building from that door… what about that door?” When we were younger it was, “If there was a fire in that corner.”
    It has gotten to the point where if my older brother and I go to a movie, we get annoyed if there are only exits on one side of the theatre.

  7. On the topic of an active shooter in the mall; almost all mall stores have a back exit (some go outside, while others go into a central hallway, which also doubles for a tornado shelter), even a store employee could possibly freeze and forget this possible escape route. Just a thought.

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  13. These are great tips! A new tip sheet on what families can do to protect themselves against AI and job replacement. Reduce debt quickly, and diversify income are two suggestions. There are not many jobs that AI will not either touch or replace. The University of Pennsylvania has written that 80MM jobs will be lost worldwide by 2025. That is just two years!! Prepare!!

  14. Jerry D Young

    Very good information. Thank you.

    If I may, I would like to make a couple (or more) additional suggestions. Reiterate to the child to NOT hang up the phone during a 911 call. If it is something like a home invasion I would have them put the phone down in an unobtrusive spot if the can. If not, just go ahead and drop it as near to a piece of furniture as possible.

    There are several variations of 911 request cards with simple guides on how to make one and the usual order of questions from the dispatcher. Work with the children on using the card to not only get into practice using it, but to get those things in their minds, which will help in a real emergency.

    This can be another drill where someone pretends to be the dispatcher, out of sight, such as in another room, and the child pretends to make the call and the adult uses the standard method to answer and go through the steps of getting the information. They can use the same card or base it on the video or some other real 911 call.

    Along with this, I would suggest having one of the cards with every phone in the house and with every mobile or cordless phone. It is best to also have some form of flashlight. A headlamp is best, but a handheld one is okay. It should be small, but large enough for the smallest child that might be in the house to use. The flashlight is needed in case the power is off due to some type of disaster event or has been cut by a home invader.

    With the 911 request card, if possible, have an ICE card for each member of the family, as well as the master that has contact information that a child can pass on to the dispatcher, such as contact numbers, especially someone the child knows well that is close in case they need someone they can trust to be there after an event.

    Of course, it might not be a situation where such a contact can be right there, but it is one of the numbers or other contact method listed on the card. Allergies to medications and foods, medical conditions, and all the normal items that go on ICE cards. There are plenty of examples online.

    If the child cannot read very well, have things written out phonetically in large letters and practice saying them with the child. Critical information only, as trying to have the child remember too many things will cause them to forget most of it in a stressful situation.

    If there is a blind child that can read braille, have cards made that have everything in braille as well as written out. The same goes for non-English speaking and/or ESL speakers that may tend to revert to their original language. A translation reminder would help the child to chose the correct word if it is written on an easy-access card.

    Pick the card(s) you want online, or look for commercial cards that some prep stores have. I would add a link here, but where I got the ones I have either no long have them, or I am not remembering correctly where I got them. (A distinct possibility.)

    Wallet cards are great, which is what I have. However, I also need reading glasses to read them now, so in the small slip envelope that the card came in I have a Fresnel lens card so I can be sure I have a way to read them. And, of course, I always have more than one source of light on me as part of my EDC.

    Oh. Remind and train the child that if it is a home invasion and the lights are out they must be very careful not to give away their hiding place with the flashlight. I am not sure using a red, green, or IR light will be of that much use. However, a card printed in ink that will fluoresce under black light and using a black light such as that used to look for pet urine or blood might work while reducing the risk of detection by an intruder.

    Now, for children that probably would not be making a 911 call but might be communicating with a first responder or one of the contacts that the child knows, because they are too young to talk, cannot talk effectively or have a vocabulary that cannot get the message across, or cannot speak English, having a visual communications chart, large or card size, with the pictures and/or symbols that can let the person communicating with them understand what they need to say. Many first responders have such visual aids, but not all.

    These are also good for adults with any form of inability to speak. For the youngest children keep it very simple with only critical information on the card, with as large as possible pictures or symbols.

    It is a good idea to have one of these charts in large format near each door, with some way of drawing attention to it for first-responders if there is a person in the home that may need it to communicate but might not be able to have an individual one. Also having one with each fixed phone in the home is also a good idea.

    The same goes for an ASL (American Sign Language) card/chart for First Responders and contact people that do not know ASL. Along with the word and the finger/hand signs, a picture or symbol will make it even easier.

    Practice, practice, practice. Mix things up some and do not make each drill for a given event exactly the same every time, once the children get the ideals down about the most needed method for something.

    I mentioned the ICE card. These should be available for First-Responders so they will know about any medical or physical conditions that have to be address when treating the person medically or during a rescue and any transport.

    The child should be taught to give the information sheets and cards to the first responders and any contact that shows up to help them immediately upon their arrival.

    Include information about any pets and stock animals that might be at risk.

    Have indoor passage door latch keys available easily and quickly for each door. Sometimes things can happen when a child is behind locked doors. Especially true once a child hits the pre-teen years and expects and wants privacy in the bathroom and their bedroom, if they have a private one. These keys vary, but are often simply a blunt ended pin that is pushed into the small hole in the outer knob of the door latch. Sometimes it takes a different type, but there should be a set of them with the house when it is constructed. However, if purchased from a former occupant those types of keys may not be around. If so, consult a locksmith to find out what type of key it is and obtain one (or ten). Make sure they can be accessed by anyone that might need access. I do suggest that they not be used to enter a room against a child’s wishes if it is not a true emergency. Especially teens. This can do much harm in a family. I will leave it to the parents to make that choice, but I do believe in reasonable and realistic boundaries within families.

    Of course, in an emergency, using brute force to get through a door can be used, but having a key is always better. Well, that is after checking to see if the door is actually locked. (Been there, done that one before.)

    Some of the other drills and education children should be given is for such things as slow-rising as well as flash-floods. Some areas might not be prone to them, but that makes it just that much harder in dealing with them because so many adults will not acknowledge the fact that just because they have not experienced one there, does not mean it is impossible. Improbable possibly, but almost never impossible. Even if not down in the water, floods can cause many other problems that must be prepared for and training done.

    Lightning is another situation. If you can get access to a Van De Graff generator at a a school or science museum having the child feel the way their hair feels when a charge is building up. This is certainly not identical to lightning betting ready to strike, but any sensation like that is reason enough to take immediate prevention actions for lightning.

    Hopefully unlikely, but I think possible, is an EMP/HEMP event. Now, the immediate reaction and training, in my opinion, is to recognize that something way out of the ordinary has occurred and to seek advice from someone they can trust that you know does know what to do.

    Now, one of the primary effects of an EMP, HEMP attack, or major solar event impacting the earth will most likely affect the electrical grid. Besides teaching the child to avoid any downed power lines, depending on age and level of understanding, teach them how to deal with power failures and black outs during the day or the night, at home or in public places. How not to panic. How to deploy and use an EDC light if they have one and what to do if they do not.

    Teaching them that a power outage, if very long, can lead to other infrastructure failures. Water supply, which is relatively easy with which to cope (bottles of water), heating/cooling (some time to deal with them) and a primarily one, the loss of easy sanitation methods, such as flush toilets, urinals, and tubs/showers. The inability to use regular bathroom facilities, especially in public, can be truly terrifying to children. Being male, and having seen the effect such things have on young girls to teen girls, I believe it can be a bigger problem for them. Both in the physical aspects, but also the mental.

    This reply post is not the place for a tutorial on how to deal with the situations, but is just a reminder of some things that I believe need to be considered, and decisions made on how to handle them and teach the children what to do.

    Their are many other things that I believe children can be taught to deal with effectively.

    Just my opinion.

  15. Being CPR certified I can certainly say retraining and practicing this often is ESSENTIAL. Thanks for sharing these! -Matt

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