SEATTLE When the big one hits many parents' first thought will be: How are my children?

You should know, every day care center and school in Washington State has an emergency plan and conducts earthquake drills, or at least they should.

Ask if your child's day care is doing something similar to what Kidspace Day Care is doing.

Your day care should have emergency kits that include medical supplies, emergency contact information and food and water for three days.

One thing you can do, which a lot of day care centers recommend, is to write a comfort letter to your child to be kept in the emergency kit. For example, Dear Sophie, we know you are safe and your teachers and friends are all taking care of each other. Please help them, and we will come as soon as we can. Love, daddy and mommy.

You can also include photos of yourselves and your kids, so they can feel better when you're not there.

We let them have it and hold it. They would take that, it would be their thing to take charge of, says Michelle Bretz of Kidspace.

For older children, school could be the best place to be during and after a quake.

First, schools are a high priority for state-funded retrofitting. Secondly, they're required to have detailed plans, with the principal becoming an incident command chief, and teachers and staff performing specific jobs, such as triage and search and rescue.

Seattle's John Hay Elementary regularly has earthquake drills.

We've practiced and practiced and practiced. I knew they could do it; I just wanted to see that they would do it, says third grade teacher, Mary Lou Laprade.

In the event of a catastrophe, the playground will turn into a makeshift shelter, housing not only students, but people from the neighborhood as well.

Many schools stock far more than the required 72 hours worth of water and food.

Schools also have counselors, to help with the kids' psychological health. School-aged children may become very worried about parents and siblings.

It was just really frightening because I've never been in an earthquake, especially a big one. I was just wondering, 'Is my sister okay? Is my sister okay?' because she's only in kindergarten, said eight-year-old Colin Mang.

Don't forget, your response to the earthquake will affect your child's response.

You know, it was probably the adults that razzled the children more than the earthquake itself, said Bretz.

So when the big one hits, chances are good that you won't be with your children, but you can help make sure your daycare or school is prepared, because your little ones will be your biggest priority.

Although schools and school districts have their own policies on preparing for an earthquake, there is no state law that mandates preparation. However, there is a law pending in the legislature that would make it a requirement.

Reported by Josephine Cheng

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