Preparing your family for earthquakes

The
Islands’ brush with a 5.9-magnitude earthquake earlier this month, coming so
soon after Haiti’s devastating 7.0-magnitude quake, has many parents questioning
how to lessen the practical and psychological impact of serious seismic
disturbances on their families.

Chief
psychiatrist at the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority and consultant psychiatrist
at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital,  
Dr. Marc Lockhart says that the local quake was, in hindsight, a wake-up
call. “Both these incidents, as vastly different as they were in intensity, should
help focus the attention of the community regarding such threats and how to mitigate
the disruption that earthquakes bring.”

He
believes that such natural phenomena, as troubling as they can be, can be used
positively. “The community needs to be prepared for the physical and emotional
fall out of such natural disasters,” he says.

“As
with most cases of events we cannot predict, education is the first and best
line of defence.”

The
psychiatrist suggests that parents gather as much information as they can on
how to prepare. He says: “Organisations like the Red Cross have plenty of
advice on earthquake preparedness that families can tailor to their needs.

“Go
online and research and formulate a family earthquake plan, similar to the one
you should already have for hurricanes.

“Your
own sense of wellbeing will be enhanced by acquiring such knowledge.”

The
salient points should then be passed on to your children in an age-appropriate
manner.

“Children
are adept at picking up on their parents’ moods,” Mr. Lockhart says. “If you
are confident in how you deliver such information and are prepared for
questions, this will do a lot to allay any residual concerns they may have
about how the family will cope.”

He
says that fear is a natural response to such situations. “especially since some
of the stories and images in the aftermath of the Haiti quake have been graphic”.

“Concern
can manifest itself in many ways. Look out for symptoms of stress including
sleep disruption, bed wetting, clinginess, loss of appetite and unexpected mood
swings.”

He
suggests that if your child presents with any of these symptoms and are related
to fears of earthquakes, you should seek the professional help of a family counsellor.
“He or she will refer the child to a psychiatrist if necessary.”

Counsellor
Taylor Burrowes at the Department of Counselling Services says: “Parents need
to stay calm and model appropriate behaviour to their children. It is easy to
get caught up in the urgency of a crisis but you must stay focused on measures
that maintain order rather than feed panic.”

Practical ways parents and educators
can be reassuring is staying informed include: “Keep[ing] abreast of the latest
official news updates locally to determine if we are in further danger or if we
have been given the all clear. Practice the drop, cover, and hold strategy with
your children, give them some responsibilities toward being crisis-ready, and
praise them for their efforts,” Ms Burrowes says.

“Schools are directly linked to
government protocol so follow their lead with when and how to collect your
children.

 “If you have already worked yourself up into a
panic, take some time out to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Do not
drive or initiate making any major decisions. Call a friend or loved one to comfort
and reassure you so that you can be calm when your child needs the same from
you.”

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