I've been thinking a lot lately about the tornadoes that killed dozens of people and caused so much destruction in Oklahoma: Two EF 5’s that ripped through the communities of Moore and El Reno, and not surprisingly, the result was fatal. According to NOAA, Statistically, on average, Tornadoes kill about 60 people each year, mostly from flying or falling debris.
This year, the storm stories I just can’t get out of my mind are the ones about the children we lost.
Classes were still in session at Plaza Towers when the tornado destroyed the school. Cars were thrown into the building and the playground was flattened.
I’ve often wondered how kids are taught in schools about deadly weather events. If you live in tornado alley, are there drills to teach the little ones what to do when the sirens go off?
I talked to Douglas Rucker who is a science teacher at Eliot Elementary in Tulsa Oklahoma who says they have tornado drills like other schools have fire drills with just minutes to react. They have several of them a year.
All the students are given an area to go to if and when there is a warning, and they are taught this at a very early age. The teachers are all given specific roles and which group to be in charge of during the event.
But, when there is a tragedy in their hometown – one that destroys their own home or community, how do they cope?
How do parents talk to their children about these types of natural disasters?
The same can be said about children who live in areas where there are earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes.
According to the website Helping Children after a Natural Disaster, experiencing a dangerous storm can be very traumatic for children. It affects their sense of security and normalcy.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says that most families do recover from natural disasters over time, especially with the support of family, friends and organizations. The length of recovery depends on how frightening or close to the event the child was – whether they had to flee their home, and the extent of the damage and loss.
Some families get back to routines (school, activities, etc.) quickly, while others have to relocate and perhaps deal with losing their home and possessions.
Medical care and even financial hardship will cause stress on their lives, and in the worst case - the loss of a family member or pet.
In some rare cases, children will show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in which case adults should immediately seek professional help to help their kids work through their fears and anxieties.
Here are a list of some of the steps parents can take in helping kids work through their fears and anxieties in the event of a natural disaster (source: National Association of School Psychologists):
1) Remain calm and reassuring.
2) Acknowledge and normalize their feelings.
3) Encourage children to talk about disaster-related events.
4) Promote positive coping and problem-solving skills.
5) Emphasize children’s resiliency.
6) Strengthen children’s friendship and peer support.
For more information on how to help children after a natural disaster, there are many websites people can look to for advice. Here are some that I received great information from:
The Red Cross also has links with how to help families recovering from a disaster:
No one can truly predict what can happen tomorrow. Even studying the weather so closely, we can’t know exactly what area will be hit the worst despite the fact that weather forecasting is getting much more precise.
Preparation is always needed, especially if you live in areas threatened by extreme weather events.
The bottom line: know what to do and where to go if you need to evacuate. Have a plan, and keep your children aware of what they need to do in the event of an emergency. Keep in touch with schools, teachers and emergency officials.
I have a quote I keep at my desk that reminds me of how important preparation is not only in weather situations, but for life in general:
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” -- John F. Kennedy
For more information on how to prepare your home for potential future weather events, here’s a good starting point.
Janice Dean is senior meteorologist for Fox News Channel. She is author of two children's books about weather. Her latest is "Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado" (Regnery 2016). Click here for more information on Janice Dean.