The importance of having family emergency plans.

We all got separated recently at a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. It can happen to any parent, you turn your head for one second and then you turn back and can’t see your kid. It’s terrifying. In this case, thankfully we had a family action plan and everyone stuck to it with precision execution. I love a danger plan, everyone knows what to do in a given emergency and a plan increases the chances of a safe outcome. 

When I was 12 my grandmother (who needed full time care due to Alzheimer’s disease) was living with us. One day all the fire alarms in our house went off. While my mother raced to grab my brother I ran to my grandmother and began the slow process of getting her out of the house. She was unstable on her feet and required support walking from the den to the front door to our family meeting place outside. 

Once everyone was safely outside, the fire trucks arrived and they began to search our house. Turns out there was no fire, rather the alarms were malfunctioning. I remember the fireman turning to me and telling me I did a great job “rescuing” my grandmother. And all I could think was, mom and I stuck to the plan. And plan making had me hooked. I loved that a danger plan was a weapon against danger.

It was the fist time I had to execute one of our plans and I was very relieved that it worked. Mom and I had this plan from the day Nana moved in: one would go for Nana and the other would go for #LittleBrother (age 7 at the time). I knew in advance that our danger plan was going to be me on Nana this time because I was already in the room with her when the alarms went off – trusting my mom to go for #LittleBrother. Despite Nana’s physical condition we were out of the house in minutes. It was then I truly appreciated the danger plan. 

Later, in my 20’s an intruder broke into our apartment while my sister and I were sleeping. We stuck to the plan there and he was apprehended when the police finally showed up (thirty minutes after more than a few 911 calls btw). After the fact we acknowledged that it was sticking to the plan that kept us safe. Now as a mom I have to have danger plans for my own family. This means fires, earthquakes … and getting lost at amusement parks.

#TheHandful has become a very strong swimmer. She is confident in the water and enjoys big slides at waterparks. As such we hit up Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) a lot. I knew it was a matter of time before we had a separation at the park because she is fiercely independent and very water safe. It could be her going down one slide while one of us is still in line and then she gets to the bottom and can’t find us etc etc etc the scenarios danced an Abby Lee solo in my brain. Before our last GWL jaunt, I reviewed our danger plan for getting lost a few times to make sure she was lock step on the program. I drill her: locate an employee, which we know is an employee because their shirt will have a GWL wolf paw on it and will probably be red. Tell the employee you’re looking for Jamie Lardner and Jeff Goldman and then give them daddy’s phone number (which is the one she has memorized). She repeated the plan back to me and told me to stop asking her what the plan is. What can I say, I’m extra.

Well good thing I’m extra. EXTRA CAUTIOUS.  At GWL they do out of water activities too. The nighttime activity that night was a story reading and it was very popular. So popular that the staff asked the parents to move to the back of the room so all the kids could see at the front. 

Boom.Separated.

In the seconds it took for #BabyDaddy to walk to the back, #TheHandful decided the story was boring and that she didn’t want to stay for it. She looked around and couldn’t see her dad to ask him if they could leave. She told us she looked around again to make sure and then concluded that she lost her dad. She told us she immediately started the plan. She walked all the way from the activity area to the main lobby and from there went behind the hotel desk. She said she looked at the people behind the desk and chose one of ladies in a paw print shirt. “I liked her face so I asked her to help find my daddy” #TheHandful explained. And then #TheHandful told us she gave the woman all her information and then pointed to the story area where she last saw her dad. Later she explained that she chose the lobby because she could see the most GWL shirts over there – my baby had a plan of her own all along.

All this time #BabyDaddy thinks she’s at the front still listening to the story. “Jeff Goldman please come to the lobby”. He looks around, looks up at the hotel lobby and sees #TheHandful standing at check-in waiving and smiling. Plan.Executed. I gotta be honest, part of me was actually proud. My little four year old kept her cool. But oh boy did I squish her extra extra extra after that.

The reason I had her find a staff member instead of “a mom with kids” which I’ve seen posted on a few mommy boards is this: I know the staff member has the resources and ability to locate our family whereas sending her to locate random mom with kids is now telling my kid to approach strangers for help and relying on her to identify which strangers can help. Nerrrr. Just nerrrr. Staff members meanwhile are visible and vetted by their employers therefore less likely to abduct her or make questionable decisions. I also like the clear direction of find an employee in a staff shirt because it gives kids a visual instead of having to interpret who among strangers is a good safe bet. 

A family meeting place is great for older children who are less at risk for immediate danger when they are separated. I like meeting places for kids 10 and up because of that. Under ten and there are elevated safety concerns from abduction to serious injury at water parks and theme parks when they are separated from a caregiver. A good family meeting place is easy for all family members to navigate back to and is specific enough that you’re not all in the same place and still can’t see each other. In our case having a family meeting spot would not have been effective as #BabyDaddy and I didn’t know she was “missing” in the first place so our strategy of finding an employee worked.

Another important aspect of having plans for when situations go awry is it empowers your kid to be their own hero and gives them action steps to take. In this instance she wasn’t even worried or scared that she couldn’t find us because she was busy executing her plan. And because our plan worked she now has more faith in the system because she can trust we will follow our part of the plan too.

What are some safety plans your family has? Drop me a comment or an email with some good ones!

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#TheHandful Got Lost and Rescued Herself

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