Lessons Learned

During the 2023 conference season, Stronger than the Storm successfully hosted panels at emergency management industry conferences focused on supporting children in disasters. Panelists included:

Elsy Bello-Gomez, Director, 4Girls Foundation
Brittany Perkins Castillo, Founder, Stronger than the Storm
CJ Huff, Founder of Bright Futures USA and Senior Advisor to Safe and Sound Schools
Nathan Jarvis, Illustrator, Instructor, and Creative Director, Stronger than the Storm
Lauralee Koziol, Advisor on Children in Disasters, FEMA
Terri Ricks, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services
Anjali Saxena, M.D., Physician, University of Miami’s Institute of Global Health
Greta Wetzel, Senior Advisor of Psychosocial Services, Save the Children

Below are key take aways the subject matter experts shared on the panels:

  • Children’s needs in disasters must be a specialized consideration for emergency managers. One cannot assume what is good for the general population is also good for children; children have unique needs.
  • Children show signs of distress in various ways, and the ways each child shows distress may vary throughout the pre-storm, response, and recovery period.
  • Don’t be scared to name the trauma. Naming a feeling helps children of all ages with understanding that feeling and coping with it.
  • Validate feelings. If a child is upset about something seemingly “small,” the response should be to validate that feeling and listen, not to say, “at least we still have a house,” or “it could be worse.” Kids manifest loss in many ways. It may be anxiety over a lost toy or not being able to play a video game, etc. These are all ways in which kids are figuring out grief, loss, disappointment, and fear.
  • Take time to listen and engage with children rather than correct or “brush it off”.
  • Get children back into their routine as quickly as possible. Routines feel safe and bring normalcy. Get back to school, continue doing the seemingly mundane things as best you can: brush teeth together, keep your bedtime routine, play the same games, eat together at the same time you normally would, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to children about what is happening. Include children in preparing for and recovering from a disaster. Children are intuitive and know when something is wrong, either because of our adult behavior (“mom is sad”) or because of more obvious things, like seeing the activity or destruction around them. Have age-appropriate conversations about what is going on to help children process and feel safer and more certain about the future. This can help avoid imaginations going amuck.
  • Include children in decision-making, both big and small, to help make them feel a sense of control. Allow children to have age-appropriate “duties” in the preparedness and recovery process. Whether it be organizing supplies, leading a donation drive, or simply writing thank you notes to volunteers and donors, giving kids an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the preparation and recovery is important.
  • Consider the holistic needs of children in your emergency management, sheltering, and disaster debris management plans to ensure children are supported:
    • Do shelters have resources that are “child-size”?
    • Where are the debris dump sites? Are they impacting parks?
    • Have playgrounds been destroyed? How soon can we get child friendly space re-opened?
    • Are the needs of parents/caregivers being addressed?
  • Ensure your workforce has the training and skills necessary to provide comfort, support, and age specific resources for children. Examples: psychological first aid training for staff and volunteers; hand-washing stations at a shelter that children can easily access given the height, functionality of the station.
  • Build relationships with local businesses, faith-based organizations, and human service agencies prior to disasters. These relationships are what “carry the day” during and after disasters.

Additional Resources


The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website has kid-focused tools and information to help before, during and after a disaster. Kids can create disaster-readiness plans and play interactive games to learn about disaster preparedness and response.


The National Child Traumatic Stress Network publishes a handout, Parents Tips for Helping School-Age Children After Disasters, that provides parents with common reactions after a disaster, ways to respond to those reactions, and examples of things you can say to your school-age child.

3. Save the Children

Save the Children has Disaster Prep Rally Lesson Books and Resource Guides in English and Spanish, a Reading to Ready book list, and other resources to prepare a family for emergencies.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has significant resources for parents and caregivers following a disaster event, including resources with graphics, in Spanish, and an ASL videophone. SAMHSA also hosts the Disaster Distress Helpline. Calls and texts to 1-800-985-5990 are immediately answered by trained counselors. Also available: Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event

5. Red Cross

The Red Cross’ Disaster Relief and Recovery Services includes a vast resource library of tools for children and families, such as Project Pillowcase, Prepare with Pedro activities and challenges, and Recovering Emotionally.

6. Family Emergency Preparedness

The Family Emergency Preparedness initiative provides resources to support storm preparedness campaigns that are valuable education tools for government agencies, schools, businesses, community organizations, and citizens.

*The authors and publishers of this book do not endorse any resource or guide referenced. The list caters publicly available resources from government agencies and reputable non-profit partners.

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