Hurricanes: Preparing and Responding to the Needs of Children

Hurricanes are scary and disruptive for kids – they can take children away from their homes, their schools and their friends. As the global leader in child-focused humanitarian response, Save the Children is committed to reducing the impact of natural disasters on children through effective hurricane preparedness, response and recovery.

Since 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we’ve been on the front lines meeting children’s most critical needs in every major U.S. disaster. Thanks to the support of our donors, we’ve created more safe spaces for children in emergencies than any other humanitarian organization. To date, we’ve served more than 3.5 million children affected by U.S. disasters.

As this year’s hurricane season comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be prepared and protected. Weather experts predict storms will be more frequent and powerful. This, combined with the potential evacuation and displacement of already vulnerable communities, paves the way for one disaster to layer upon another.

Learn more about how to prepare, stay safe and Save the Children’s work on the front lines meeting children’s most critical needs.

10 Hurricane Safety Tips

Save the Children’s emergency experts have compiled these hurricane safety tips to help protect your children from distress during and after disasters. We’ve also noted how you may need to adjust your hurricane emergency plan due to COVID-19.

  1. Talk to your children about hurricanes. Explain to your child what could happen in the event of a hurricane, using simple, age-appropriate words. Outline an emergency plan for the whole family, with an evacuation plan and meeting location and emphasize that their safety is your utmost priority.

    Plan for where you may be able to go while still following the CDC's social distancing recommendations. Keep in mind any family members who may be at high risk for COVID-19 and how to keep gatherings to a minimum.

  2. Prepare a “to-go bag” for each child in the family ahead of time. The bag should contain essential personal items as well as those that can help protect the spread of COVID-19, including:

    Contact and medical information
    A flashlight with extra batteries
    A favorite stuffed animal or comfort item
    A blanket
    Hygiene supplies including a toothbrush, comb and washcloth
    Hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap
    Two cloth face coverings for each child above the age of two

  3. Practice evacuation drills. Once you’ve created your evacuation plan and talked with your children about it, it’s time to practice. Be sure to run through different scenarios – at home, at school and at other places you visit often (like a grandparent’s house, or a second home). When planning your evacuation route, remember that bridges may be washed out and low-lying areas may be flooded.

  4. Learn your child’s school or child care disaster plans. If your child attends school, daycare or an after-school program, ask for the facility’s emergency plan in the event of a hurricane. Learn their procedures for evacuation, notifying parents and if there is an alternate pick up location.

  5. Evacuate if instructed to do so. If you are instructed to evacuate by local authorities – or if you feel unsafe – you should follow CDC recommendations for how to stay safe and healthy in a public setting or shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  6. Stay indoors, if not evacuated. If you aren’t advised to evacuate, or are unable to do so safely, stay indoors, away from windows, skylights and doors. Continue to monitor weather reports and don’t go outside until the storm has passed. Downed trees, live electrical wires and other hazards can crop up unexpectedly.

  7. Keep routines. Children experience comfort from rituals and routines, like a story before bedtime or a family meal each evening. If at all possible, keep these routines.

  8. Role model and listen. Remember, children look to you and pick up on your moods and cues. Let your children know that it’s okay to be sad, but do your best to reassure them that they’re safe.

    Although the dangers of a hurricane are very real, your child’s fears may be out of proportion or unrealistic. Take the time to talk to them and hear their concerns.

  9. Limit media. Even the mildest of storms can be sensationalized on news and weather channels. Children of all ages can be disturbed by intense images online and on TV, so monitor their media intake.

  10. Watch your child for changes in behavior, sleeping patterns, or eating habits. Children may be afraid or anxious for a while after the hurricane. If changes in behavior do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. However, if they continue, you should seek professional help and counseling

What to Know About the 2020 Hurricane Season

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1 and runs through November 30. It’s the first time in U.S. history that hurricane season planning must take into account social distancing. As many coastal states plan for hurricanes, the CDC has urged emergency managers to prioritize small shelters over large shelters. Some experts fear that the pandemic will keep people out of shelters all together.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted the 2020 hurricane season will be “above-normal,” with as many as six major hurricanes expected. Currently, Atlantic surface waters are the fourth warmest they’ve been since NOAA began keeping records in 1982. It's not a coincidence that 2005 and 2017, the years Hurricanes Katrina and Hurricane Maria struck, recorded two of the warmest Atlantic surface water temperatures on record. 

On Friday, September 18, whenTropical Storm Wilfred formed in the Atlantic, it becames the earliest storm with a W name on record. Since Wilfred was also the last remaining name for Atlantic storms in 2020, meteorologists official transitioned to using Greek names. This is only the second time in history when there has been more than 21 named storms in a single hurricane season. The notorious 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, the year Hurricane Katrina struck, was the first.

Hurricane Laura caused massive damage to communities in the Gulf Coast.

Hurricanes can cause widespread damage and impact communities for years to come. 

Hurricane Arthur
Hurricane Bertha
Hurricane Cristobal
Hurricane Dolly
Hurricane Edouard
Hurricane Fay
Hurricane Gonzalo
Hurricane Hanna
Hurricane Isaias
Hurricane Josephine
Hurricane Kyle
Hurricane Laura
Hurricane Marco
Hurricane Nana
Hurricane Omar 
Hurricane Paulette
Hurricane Rene
Hurricane Sally
Hurricane Teddy
Hurricane Vicky
Hurricane Wilfred

Hurricane Alpha
Hurricane Beta
Hurricane Gamma 
Hurricane Delta 
Hurricane Epsilon
Hurricane Zeta
Hurricane Eta
Hurricane Theta
Hurricane Iota
Hurricane Kappa
Hurricane Lambda
Hurricane Mu
Hurricane Nu
Hurricane Xi
Hurricane Omicron
Hurricane Pi
Hurricane Rho
Hurricane Sigma
Hurricane Tau
Hurricane Upsilon
Hurricane Pi
Hurricane Chi
Hurricane Omega

What is the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning?

  • A hurricane watch indicates there’s a threat of hurricane or tropical storm conditions within 48 hours.
  • A hurricane warning means a hurricane or tropical storm is expected within 36 hours or less.
  • A tropical storm or hurricane statement is issued every 2-3 hours by your local National Weather Service (NWS) office. It will summarize all of the watches and warnings, evacuation info and most immediate threats to the area.

Our History of Hurricane Emergency Response in the U.S.

When crisis strikes, children are always among the most vulnerable. That’s why Save the Children has been on the ground, protecting America’s children, in every major disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

Thanks to the support of our donors, our response teams and supplies hit the road before disaster strikes, to help keep children and families safe. We get parents the essential items they need to continue to care for their children, make sure evacuation shelters are safe and supportive to children and families’ unique needs.

We’re also there for the long term, restoring child care centers and preschools – and restarting afterschool and summer programs – so kids can get back to learning and parents can get back to work. Plus, our social and emotional recovery programs, including  Journey of Hope and  HEART (Healing and Education Through the Arts), help children and caregivers understand and cope with the fear and loss that can come in the wake of a disaster.

In North Carolina, children and families displaced by Hurricane Florence spend time in a child friendly space where toys and arts and crafts can provide comfort and distraction from the storm.

Hurricane Florence

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence battered the coast of the Carolinas, generating life-threatening floodwaters and damaging winds. Our teams worked to meet the immediate and long-term needs of children and families affected by the storm. In the early days, our relief experts set up child-friendly spaces in shelters and delivered essential supplies. In addition to restoring child care and early learning centers, our experts helped provide children with preparedness and resilience skills.

Children play with Child Friendly Space volunteers in the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces are safe play areas in evacuation shelters where kids can be kids again, express themselves and begin to cope. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we continue to help children, families and communities most affected by Hurricane Michael. Photo Credit: Save the Children / October 2018

Hurricane Michael

Thirteen months after Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Michael, classified a category 5, struck Florida in October. This massive storm was the most intense on record ever to hit the region, and its destructive path affected some of the poorest counties, least equipped to handle the storm’s devastation. With your generous support, we provided immediate relief for children and families affected by the storm. Critical supplies, including diapers, wipes and hygiene kits, were distributed to families, while our emergency response teams set up safe play spaces in shelters.

A young child rests while in the care of a Save the Children emergency responder during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.]

Hurricane Harvey

2017’s catastrophic hurricane season began in August, when Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas, triggering epic flooding that forced families from their homes. We quickly deployed staff who set up child-friendly spaces and provided essential supplies to children and families. Through our Journey of Hope, we built a multi-partner collaboration to deliver our emotional support program to thousands of children. Our support of ongoing recovery stretched over the course of two years.

A mother smiles while sitting at an outdoor table with her two young sons in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma

In early September of 2017, Hurricane Irma crashed ashore in the Florida Keys, and then stormed northward, leaving a path of destruction and flooding. Thanks to you, we deployed teams to provide essential supplies for children and provided emergency grants to restore child care centers damaged by Hurricane Irma.

A mother holds her daughter in her arms while standing in front of destruction caused by  Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico during the 2017 hurricane.

Hurricane Maria

Then came Hurricane Maria in mid-September, leaving a trail of devastation across Puerto Rico – the island’s worst disaster since 1928. Our staff arrived to find families overwhelmed with tremendous damage to their homes, no power and critical shortages of clean water, food and fuel. We quickly mobilized, helping deliver relief by truck, helicopter and plane, including meals, water, parent-baby kits and shelter repair kits. We trained local social workers on psychological first aid and mobilized summer programs to help children recover and keep learning. Our recovery and resilience-building work continued over the course of two years.

Hurricane Relief: How to Help Vulnerable Kids and Communities

Save the Children is the only national response agency that has children at the core of everything we do.

As the national leader for children in emergencies, Save the Children works to ensure children’s unique needs are met and their voices are heard. Through the generous support of our donors, we help protect and keep children safe before, during and after disasters strike, and are there for kids for the long term.

Your generous support is what makes this work possible. A donation to the Children's Emergency Fund will help provide assistance in the critical first hours and days of an emergency when children need us most.