BILOXI, Miss. -- The psychological effects of Hurricane Katrina fell with particular force on one group of victims-children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that children have a special vulnerability to disaster situations, making it urgent for adults to prepare them for such shocks in advance.
"Fear is rooted mostly in lack of information and children are less informed than adults," said Kris Jones, disaster mental health director for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. "There is little doubt that a disaster such as Katrina will impact children harder than its physical effects might suggest."
"Preparation is the key," Jones continued, referring to the difference that parents and teachers can make in children's fears. "Children who have been prepared for a disaster are much more likely to understand what is happening - and the more they understand, the less likely they are to panic."
This advice should not be overlooked as the 2006 hurricane season reaches its official endpoint this week. Many government- and faith-based programs have helped children and their families to recover from the stress of Hurricane Katrina, but opportunities remain, both at home and in the classroom, to teach what to expect in a disaster and how to prepare for one.
"Children, too, are our partners in maintaining readiness," said Nick Russo, federal coordinating officer for Mississippi recovery. "Readiness for future disaster challenges should always go hand in hand with recovery."
"When disaster strikes, the whole family is affected," said Mike Womack, interim director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "Preparation before a disaster helps families in the recovery process. Involving children in pulling together a family disaster supply kit and talking openly with them about what you're doing and why helps ready them for coping with a future event."
To address this need, a kid-friendly Internet site, "FEMA for Kids," is available to children and parents at www.fema.gov. The site is easy enough - and safe enough - to be navigated by children working alone or in a classroom exercise. Geared to third through sixth graders, and with some activities for younger children, it combines colorful graphics, games, quizzes, prizes, original storybooks, sound and high-impact design to help young users absorb as much information as possible. Links to external sites are kept to a minimum.
Highlights include "The Disaster Area," teaching the crucial steps that children can take in each type of disaster situation. Another feature, "Get Ready, Get Set," covers such subjects as how to put together a supply kit, making a family disaster plan and some counseling insight: "How you might feel in a disaster." Parents and teachers will find lesson plans, curriculum tips, classroom activities and links to other Internet resources.
A second Web site on preparedness, www.ready.gov, also reaches out to children. More focused on national security emergencies than on natural disasters, this site offers a "Ready Kids" link to an entertaining children's section, with games, puzzles and downloadable coloring pages as in "FEMA for Kids."
"These Web sites are designed to be fun while being useful," Russo said. "We understand that disasters are especially hard on kids, and we want them to be informed so they can feel safer."
The information at both Web sites is free.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, initiates mitigation activities and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA works closely with state and local emergency managers, law enforcement perso...