Making home alone become home safely

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

5/10/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL  -- By arming children ages 10-12 with basic safety tips, the Latch Key Program prepares them to stay home alone safely in the face of emergencies.

The next class is from 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Gunter Community Library for children who live on or off the installation.

According to Maxwell Air Force Base's child supervision policies, children ages 10-12 may only be left alone for up to three hours after the completion of the Latch Key Program. Anything
can happen in that time, and it is best to prepare children for every emergency, according to Col. Joseph Milner, 42nd Mission Support Group commander.

"We always hope for the best, but things happen and when they do, we want our children to be confident in their ability to handle the situation until an adult can get there to assist them," he said. "Just like we train our military and civilian workforce to be prepared for emergencies, we are doing the same here for our children."

A class taught regularly through the Airmen and Family Readiness Center by Kathi Byrd, an information and referral consultant, and members of the 42nd Security Force Squadron, the Latch Key program covers what to do when approached by a stranger, how to stay safe inside the home and what to do in case of a fire or severe weather.

Children must demonstrate an appropriate level of responsibility before the end of the class in order to stay home alone without posing a threat to themselves or others, according to Byrd.

While walking home after school, Byrd warns children to stay in a group. Being alone, a child is more susceptible to being followed. "What would you do if someone starts to follow you and they're not supposed to?" Byrd asked the class. "Don't go directly to home. Stop at a neighbor's home and get help and bring attention to yourself. Start yelling or making a lot of noise because they don't want anyone to know that what they're doing is not good." Staff Sgt. Shawn Wolf of the security forces also warned them of tricks kidnappers may use to entice them. "Don't let them try to trick you by offering you their phone, asking you to check in with your mom," said Wolf. "You don't want to get close to them."

Children should be aware of anything out of place or unusual before they enter their homes, such as broken windows or locks in case someone has broken in. In such cases, Byrd said to leave the area, call 911 and stay with an adult.

Once safely inside the home, children should lock the door, refusing to open it to anyone, advised Byrd. Wolf added that if they are watching TV, children shouldn't be alarmed when they hear a knock at the door and should keep the volume at the same level. "Don't be scared and turn it down. They will know you are there," Wolf said. "Let it go and they'll assume it was just left on."

Being entrusted with a set of house keys is a big responsibility, according to Byrd, who says children should keep their keys with them in a safe spot at all times. "Don't show it. Don't flaunt it around and show your friends," Byrd warned. "Because you don't want anyone else to get that key."

"Call 911 anytime when you feel unsafe and you feel like you need help," Byrd stressed to the class, adding that they should tell the police dispatcher their first and last name, their address and the situation. On Maxwell and Gunter, anyone using a cell phone should dial 953-9911 to reach emergency services on base. "The main thing when you call 911 is you may be real nervous about it, but you want to stay calm," said Byrd. "Listen to the dispatcher who is on the other end of the phone and talk to them and they will walk you through what to expect and they'll keep you on the phone for as long as they can."

In case of a fire, children are to leave the house immediately. Byrd encourages parents to create a fire safety plan and practice fire drills during the day and night so children know how to escape and where to meet afterward. Families should also check smoke alarms every six months.

In cases of thunder, lightning or tornadoes, children and families are to stay inside, away from windows. For tornadoes, shelter should be sought in a basement, closet or other type of safe room where there  is an emergency kit already in place containing a flashlight, batteries, bottled water, blankets and a radio.

To register for Tuesday's Latch Key Program, call 953-2353 by Monday.