10/25/2013 11:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Protecting Kids Before the Next Sandy Strikes

Hurricane Sandy's heartbreak is far from over. That's particularly true for parents.

I'm not just talking about the continued struggle to rebuild homes, businesses and livelihoods. That's incredibly difficult. I'm talking about parents witnessing the ongoing impact of the devastating storm and its stressful aftermath on their children.


Take Skylar. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed his Seaside Heights, NJ home, he was only one. He and his mom took refuge in a small hotel room far away from the only community he knew. He had nowhere to play outside and faced a busy highway for months. He stopped talking and trying to feed himself. He was alternately listless and aggressive. His mom ached for her son, but felt powerless to help him.

Or Rachel. At three, she'd lost everything in her Brooklyn apartment and slept for months on other people's floors. She cried most nights and refused her bedtime milk because her favorite Dora the Explorer Cup was lost in the flooding.

One year later, Save the Children finds that many children still panic or break into tears at the mention of the word "storm." They can't shake that feeling that they could drown at any time, and they relive fears in nightmares that haven't stopped.

"My son lost that feeling that no matter what, you're safe at home," says Nancy of Staten Island of her seven-year-old son, Anthony. "That kills me that he doesn't have that anymore. I'm hoping that in time he'll be better."

Many children are depressed, withdrawn, uninterested in school. Or they're acting out, unable to deal with the anger and stress that won't go away. Ongoing financial fallout at home make things even harder, especially for children in the poorest families.

So, how can we protect children from the powerful effects of disaster? We need to take action as a society, but also in our own homes.

That starts with creating our own family plans to protect the children in our lives. And checking with schools and child care that they have and regularly practice their own emergency plans. Unfortunately, most states still don't meet minimum standards on requiring such plans.

You might think you're more prepared than you actually are. I for one thought my family was in good shape until Sandy flooded our Connecticut town, knocked out the power for more than a week and made cell phone service unreliable. Several of my friends and colleagues became homeless for many weeks after. A huge community response was needed.

Suddenly our designated family meeting place of the end of the driveway seemed inadequate. And we realized our 12-year-old daughter didn't have her grandparents' phone numbers in case we became separated and unable to reach each other.

I encourage you to talk through Save the Children's emergency checklists with your own family, and get your child-friendly go-kit ready. My 12-year-old surprised me by saying she wanted to include the favorite stuffed lamb she grew up with. You sometimes just don't realize what your own kids will find most comforting if disaster hits.

You can also raise awareness that children need special care after a disaster by sharing our video about Sandy's ongoing impact on children.

By helping flooded child care centers reopen, Save the Children has helped children like Skylar and Rachel recover in a steady, nurturing environment. And through our Journey of Hope program, we're helping children like Anthony talk through their emotions and develop coping skills to move forward.

These children can bounce back, but one year after Hurricane Sandy, the unmet needs remain great. Our nation can and should do more to protect all children from disaster. And we each need to do our part, too.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Save the Children launched its Get Ready. Get Safe. initiative to empower communities to better protect children from disaster. Learn more at