There are some situations that no educational professional ever wants to think about—fire, flood, epidemics, earthquakes, or active shooters. Yet as we have learned with recent events, sometimes these emergency situations can strike when we are not expecting them. Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-P, author of the Preparing for the Unexpected Series including Preschool Preparedness for an Active Shooter and Preschool Preparedness for an Emergency, shares three tips to prepare preschools for emergencies so that we can reduce the likelihood or impact of these risks.
Hi, my name is Andy Roszek. I'm the Executive Director of The Institute for Childhood Preparedness, and the author of the Preparing for the Unexpected series. I'm so glad that you're joining me today to learn a little bit more about how we can be better prepared.
You know, preparedness really is an investment. I know there's a lot of regulations and requirements to do preparedness on a monthly basis, for many of us with fire drills. But really, we want to think of preparedness as being more than just a chore. We want to think about preparedness as being something that we do that can really help us get a return on our investment in case, heaven forbid, something bad really does happen to our program. So let's talk about three quick tips on how you can become better prepared today.
1. Practice! Practice! Practice!
First and foremost, we used to say “practice makes perfect.” Well, I like to say “practice makes prepared.” The more we can practice our emergency plans where we can put them into play in everyday settings and the more we can create realistic scenarios to test out our plans, the better off we're going to be.
I’m going to demonstrate how you can take your fire drills to the next level, and still have some fun and some creativity in your program. Every month we're required to do fire drills, and those are a perfect opportunity to test out our emergency response plans. But, too often we see fire drills not taken seriously. So next month, I challenge you to construct a little “burning bush” in your hallway and pretend like it is is the fire. In this particular classroom, we would always go out of the classroom door and make a left to our exit during a fire drill. This month, we're going to try something different. We're not able to go left now that the “burning bush” is there. So now, we're going to have to think about what our alternatives are to get out of the building. Just one more way that we're taking our drills more seriously, and trying to keep kids all the more safe.
2. Organize Emergency Contacts and Plans in Advance
Let's get all the contacts we need, and let's get them organized well in advance. There's an old saying in the emergency preparedness world that you don't want to be exchanging business cards on the scene of a disaster. Boy oh boy, I can't tell you how much farther ahead you'd be if you got all these contacts aligned ahead of time. During a disaster or an emergency is not the time to be sorting through the phone book and trying to figure out “Who's who?” and “Who do you call?” So getting things organized in advance is very, very important.
Who do you need to have on speed dial? Well, your insurance is a good one to start with as well as local services that can help you out, the fire department, the police department, and emergency medical services like EMTs and paramedics. Also, there's a lot of nonprofit organizations inside cities that are there to help you. They might have private philanthropy arms, or foundations that can come to help. Or maybe having something simple like the library down the street that you could use as one of your evacuation sites in case you had to temporarily relocate.The bottom line is, all of these need to be in place ahead of time. You need to have signed agreements in place. You need to have contacts. You need to check regularly to make sure that your contacts are up to date, because people do leave jobs.
We were doing a training once for a city, and we had a whole bunch of early childhood professionals in the room. We asked, “Where would you go if you lost power, it was in the middle of winter, and you couldn't stay in your program?" Wouldn’t you know, there were about 30 programs represented, and they all picked the same place. They all pick the local public library. There happened to be a representative of the library there on site that day, and she had no idea that all these programs were planning to come to her as an evacuation site.
So a little bit of pre-planning, a little bit of networking, and a little bit of making connections ahead of time can really make things run all the more smoothly.
3. Be Situationally Aware of Your Surroundings
Finally, one of the things that we talk about a lot is being situationally aware of your surroundings. We talk about this in great detail in Preschool Preparedness for an Active Shooter. Situational awareness means it's time to put down those phones. It also means it's time to be aware of what's going on around us, who is around us, what signs we are seeing, what sites we are seeing, and what smells we are smelling. We need to make sure we are really paying attention, because time really is of the essence.
If we can identify a potential problem a few minutes or a few seconds before it happens, that's going to give us more time to react and respond, and make sure that we can have a little bit of a better outcome. It is so important to maintain your situational awareness— being aware of everything that's going on around you, not getting so focused on a phone or on a particular child or particular issue that you lose sight of what's going on in your world around you.
I hope you like these three tips, and I would encourage you to reach out to The Institute for Childhood Preparedness. We have a whole wealth of resources on our website, and of course we have the wonderful Preparing for the Unexpected Series including, Preschool Preparedness for an Active Shooter and Preschool Preparedness for an Emergency. These books go into much greater detail, walk you through different scenarios, provide you with real-world information, and provide you with actionable tips, tools, and resources that you can use today to make your program more safe. So, as we like to say: “Don't be scared. Be prepared.”