Former Navy Commander Heather L Beal has found a new mission after 23 years of active service: launching a publishing company and writing a series of books to prepare preschool children for disaster.
It’s a situation that no parent wants to think about, but hurricanes, tornadoes and, to a lesser extent, active shooters and even hostage situations are scenarios that could strike anywhere, even in childcare.
After a very active career in the Navy involving extensive work in emergency management, Heather moved to Bremerton, Wash., an area susceptible to earthquakes, with her husband and two children. Here, she started to wonder about whether emergency preparedness extends to childcare and very young children as comprehensively it should. While FEMA recommends that childcare organizations plan for both natural disasters and man-made, medical and threatening child safety situations, Heather discovered that many settings don’t have the staff or experience to test emergency plans and ensure that they are workable. With around 61 percent of kids 5 and under spending over 33 hours a week in some sort of childcare arrangement in the U.S., this is a resources gap that has the potential to affect a great number of families.
“Ultimately, childcare providers are first responders for our children, and we need to give them the tools they need to be able to carry out that extremely important responsibility, ” she said in an interview with HSToday.
She was inspired to set up BLOCKS, a nonprofit that provides disaster preparedness planning and training support to childcare organizations through coordination with emergency preparedness government offices and the wider community. BLOCKS helps childcare providers plan for both natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and man-made child safety situations, which could be anything from abducted or missing children to shooters or hostage situations.
Through BLOCKS, Heather also realized that a lack of training for childcare organizations was only part of the story — there was actually very little out there in terms of disaster preparedness resources for young children to support the training.
“As I started digging around, I discovered a few books out there on the science of disaster, most for older children, but almost none that taught young children what to do when the disaster was actually happening,” she said.
This discovery, coupled with Heather’s experience in, and dedication to, emergency preparedness inspired her to write a children’s book specifically aimed at teaching children what to do during a tornado. The book, Elephant Wind, tells the story of two children and their class at a science fair when a tornado warning happens; it provides a great grounding for parents and childcare providers to engage preschool children with what they should do during such a disaster. After the success of the first book, she released a second, Tummy Rumble Quake, which tackled earthquake safety and received rave reviews and several awards.
Heather thinks the reluctance to talk about disaster preparedness with children stems from a combination of the belief that a disaster won’t ever affect our own children, and a fear that talking about earthquakes or tornadoes is too scary for young minds to handle.
“Focusing on the horrors it brings doesn’t help anyone,” she said. “We can, however, talk about disaster in the context of what to do to be safe if it happens and how to make good choices.”
That is why she founded Train 4 Safety Press, the publishing company to educate young children about what to do in a disaster in a fun, engaging, memorable, but non-threatening way. The books can be used in childcare settings to lead discussions about emergency planning, alongside other resources and training, or parents can read them with young children at home to make sure they know what to do in a disaster. So far, hurricanes and tornadoes have been covered but Heather intends to focus on a wide range of topics that could have an impact on children, and the emergency planning that is necessary in a childcare setting.
“We need to approach talking about disaster in the same way we approach other learning lessons. These books provide a way to talk about the issue, practice the steps for safety and all include a song to help children remember what to do,” she said. “We often underestimate the ability of children to play a part in their own resilience and recovery. While we know there are no guarantees in life, how can we not do everything in our power to increase the odds they come home to us at the end of the day?”
For more information or to buy her books, contact Heather at train4safety.com