I chose the most likely emergency for our area - which in our case is an earthquake. I invented a scenario including time of day and extent of the earthquake. I also determined situations - like downed power lines, dam breaks, and gas leaks that we would encounter (but I didn't share these additional situations with anyone else).
I gave each member of our family a blank sheet of paper with a single sentence indicating their location and situation. After the earthquake "occurred," each family member wrote on the page what their next course of action would be. I had predetermined my course of action prior to starting the activity so that my responses were not changed based on their decisions. Then I responded (by writing on their paper) to their actions indicating additional situations as needed. The main objective was to find each other.
We have older children and a three-year old. Obviously, this activity is better suited for children who can write. Our little-one acted as the paper "passer" as we responded to each other and loved it.
Here is what happened:
Tuesday @ 10:30 am - 8.5 earthquake occurs. There is major damage, no electricity, and many injuries.
10:30 - I am grocery shopping with my three-year old. Sky lights in the store break sending glass everywhere. I cut my shoulder. By the time we make our way out of the store, everyone is busy and frenzied. We find the car and use the first-aid kit kept in the glove box to bandage my shoulder. We discover that all cell-phone service is dead.
11:15 - I attempt to drive back into our neighborhood. However there are so many power lines, trees, and poles down that I finally park the car and start walking.
1:15 - We've walked up into our neighborhood, only to discover that there must be a major gas leak up by our home. We need to stay out of the area.
1:30 - We walk to our church building instead. There I find my oldest son waiting for me. My 11-year old and husband are not there, however.
My oldest son:
His paper states, "School collapses in two-story section. What class are you in? What do you do?"
My summary of his responses:
10:30 - He isn't affected by the collapse. He looks for his friends. They start walking home.
11:30 - He arrives at our neighborhood only to discover that he can't go to our home because of the gas leak. He decides to stay at the church with his friends.
1:00 - I wrote on his page: "You've been waiting at the church for 1 1/2 hours now and haven't seen any other member of our family. What do you do? His response: "I pray" [This was my favorite response of the whole activity!]. I ask: "Do you stay there?" His response: "Yes."
1:30 - Mom shows up at the church at 1:30.
My 11-year old son:
His paper states, "Part of the school gym collapses. Many injuries among those who are there. Rest of school is moved out into the school fields. Where are you? And what do you do?"
My summary of his responses:
10:30 - Not in gym. Go out to field with friends - am really scared.
12:00 - I wrote: "Many of the kids have been checked out. The school won't just let you walk home so you have to stay until someone checks you out. You see Mrs. J. come to the school to check out her kids."
12:15 - He asks Mrs. J. to check him out (she is authorized to do so), then heads west back towards our neighborhood with her.
12:30 - I write: "you see a huge set of power lines on the road all along the major north/south road." He responds, "jump over." [This was the most disturbing point of the whole exercise. I discovered at this point that he honestly didn't know that you shouldn't jump over power lines. Hopefully Mrs. J would have not let this happen. We discuss this problem verbally and I teach him about power lines.] His new response, "go around."
12:45 - He gets to our neighborhood (north end) only to discover about the gas leak. He continues with Mrs. J around the neighborhood to the south end. They tape a note to our mailbox (which is not in the neighborhood) to let us know where he is.
Note - We didn't get any farther with him on the scenario. He determined that he would stay with Mrs. J. But we figured out that we would have spent a lot of time looking for him and that we would have just missed each other. We discussed better places to leave notes (like on the church doors).
His paper states, "Windows blow out in your building. You have minor injuries from glass/books. Many campus buildings collapse and a lot of people are cut and hurt."
My summary of his responses:
10:30 - I would spend several hours helping take care of students.
2:30 - Go look for car. Car is luckily in an exterior lot. Can drive away from campus, but finds roads jammed. Rumors that the overpasses have collapsed on the freeway. Tries cell phone only to discover that it is dead.
3:00 - Takes side roads until police officer stops him and indicates a potential dam break and the need to move to high ground. He abandons the car, takes blanket and water from car and moves into high area.
5:30 - I write, "Flood threat is cleared. But in the middle of a huge rainstorm now." He writes, "walk" - to "the church."
Note - We figure he would have walked through the whole night in terrible weather to find us. I'd like to have an office kit and a better car kit for him in this type of situation. He had water, a blanket, and a 1/2 full gas tank, but he also needed a rain poncho and some food.
At the end we discussed meeting locations and note-leaving locations. We also discussed basic precautions like not jumping over power lines, etc. All is not worked out -- but a lot was! It would have been appropriate to serve snacks from our 72-hour kits (but we did something else). My kids thought that the activity was "fun." Go figure.