Be Aware!

In a disaster, children, pets, and mental health need extra attention

During National Preparedness Month in September, we partnered with the Coalition on Inclusive Emergency Planning (CIEP) to offer preparedness tips for people with disabilities, access and functional needs.

Caring for our mental and emotional well being

It’s natural to be upset when you think your health, or the health of your loved ones, is threatened. Be aware of your own feelings and take care of your emotional needs. Then, you can better help friends and family members with theirs — especially in an emergency. You’ll be better prepared to care for pets too.

We often have changes in our physical, emotional, or mental state during and after emergencies. If reactions seem extreme or last a long time, the person who is experiencing them should seek help.

Tips to cope with stress and anxiety:

  • Limit exposure to graphic news stories, and get accurate, timely updates from reliable sources.
  • Learn more about the health hazard you face.
  • Maintain a normal routine as much as possible.
  • Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
  • Avoid drugs and excessive drinking.
  • Stay physically and mentally active.
  • Stay in touch with family, friends, and share your concerns with others.
  • If you can, help others.
  • Maintain your sense of humor.

Asking for and giving help:

  • If you’re having a hard time managing your emotions, it’s ok to seek help from a medical or mental health professional. You can also call or text the Washington Listens support line. If someone you know is having a difficult time, encourage them to do the same.
  • If you notice a big change in a loved one, friend, or co-worker, make time to talk with them. Showing you care can be comforting for both of you.

How children react in a disaster

Children’s behavior can be tough to predict. They may have an immediate reaction to an event or never show any sort of distress. Sometimes, their feelings and reactions may show up weeks or months later. They may need your help no matter what it seems. Here’s what to watch for.

Children may:

  • Be unusually upset at losing a favorite toy, blanket, or special belonging.
  • Change from being quiet, obedient, and caring to noisy or aggressive; or from being outgoing to shy or afraid.
  • Develop nightmares, fear of the dark, or fear of sleeping alone.
  • Fear the event will happen again. They may become afraid of wind, rain, or sudden loud noises.
  • Become easily upset or worry about where their family will live.
  • Lose trust in adults, want to stay close to parents, or refuse to go to school or day care.
  • Revert to younger behavior (bed-wetting, thumb-sucking).
  • Believe they caused the disaster because of something they said or did.
  • Have symptoms of illness, such as headaches, vomiting, or fever.

Things caregivers can do to help children:

  • Talk about how the children feel. Assure them it’s okay to have those feelings and to cry. Give them time to grieve losses.
  • Help them express their feelings through words. Don’t expect kids to be brave or tough.
  • Don’t give them more information than they can handle.
  • Reassure you will be there to care for them and the disaster wasn’t their fault.
  • Go back to former routines as soon as possible. Maintain a regular schedule.
  • Let them have some control, such as choosing clothing or what to have for dinner.
  • Re-establish contact with extended family.
  • Help children learn to trust adults again by keeping promises you make.
  • Help them regain faith in the future by making plans.
  • Get them needed health care as soon as possible.
  • Spend extra time with them at bedtime.
  • Make sure they eat healthy meals and get enough rest.
  • Allow special privileges for a brief time, such as leaving the light on when they go to bed.
  • Find ways to express to your children that you love them.
  • Find positive activities for anniversaries of the event. These may bring tears, but they also celebrate survival and the ability to get back to a normal life.

A consistent routine can help pets and service animals

Guide dogs, other service animals, and pets may become confused, frightened or disoriented during a disaster. Here’s how to prepare and care for them before, during, and after a disaster.


  • Find a safe place for your pets to stay. Check ahead with shelters or motels to make sure you can bring your pet.
  • Arrange for a trusted neighbor to take care of your pets if you’re not home during a disaster.
  • Make sure your pets wear current identification tags, and label carriers with contact information.
  • Make sure your pets’ vaccinations are current. Shelters may require proof.

Keep emergency supplies and information handy, and store them in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers. These include:

  • Photos to help identify lost pets and prove ownership.
  • Food and water for at least seven days for each pet.
  • Bowls, cat litter and litter box, a manual can opener, and a first-aid kit.

Information on feeding schedules, behavior problems, medications and medical records — stored in a waterproof container with the name and number of your veterinarian.

  • Toys and pet beds, or blankets and towels for bedding. Familiar toys may calm your pet.
  • Newspapers, paper towels, litter bags, grooming and cleaning items.

During and after:

  • Keep them confined or securely leashed or harnessed. A leash or harness is important for managing a nervous or upset animal.
  • Don’t allow pets to roam loose; they can get lost if familiar landmarks and smells are gone.
  • Be patient if they have behavioral problems. Re-establish routines as soon as possible. If problems continue, or if your pet is having health problems, talk to your veterinarian.
  • If you evacuate, take your pet, even if you think you’ll come home in just a few hours.
  • Leave early; if you wait for an evacuation order, you may need to leave your pets behind.

Additional Resources

Getting connected before an emergency strikes can help save lives; here’s more information.

This is the fourth and final post for National Preparedness Month. The other posts in the series were “Be Ready,” “Be Alert,” and “Be Connected.”

Written by guest blogger Jim House, Emergency Planning Disability Integration Manager, Coalition on Inclusive Emergency Planning (CIEP). CIEP is a statewide advisory group that focuses on access and functional needs (AFN) issues before, during, and after a disaster. CIEP is a program of the Washington State Independent Living Council (WASILC) and is funded by DOH.

More Information

Information in this blog changes rapidly. Sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles. For more information from the Washington State Department of Health, visit

Questions about COVID-19? Visit our COVID-19 website to learn more about vaccines and booster doses, testing, WA Notify, and more. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Washington State Department of Health

Washington State Department of Health

Protecting and improving the health of people in Washington State.