The entire East Coast is bracing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, and early childcare administrators are no exception. The last thing anyone responsible for the care and keeping of children wants to feel is unprepared. With just a few cautionary measures and contingency plans in place, childcare directors can know they have done their best to ensure that the children in their care will be safely cared for. Cathy Grace and Elzabeth F. Shores, authors of Preparing for Disaster: What Every Early Childhood Director Needs to Know, offer early childhood directors several plans to help them do just that. The following are just a few of the helpful suggestions, measures, and tools that Cathy Grace and Elizabeth F. Shores provide in their book Preparing for Disaster and its companion piece, After the Crisis. No matter what disaster strikes, these wonderful resources will help early childhood directors protect their programs and ensure the safety of the children they care for.
1. The “Sheltering in Place” Plan
In some types of disasters, it is safer to keep the children and staff together inside the facility than to evacuate them to a different location. Select rooms or areas of your facility that are away from windows, doors, and exterior walls. If you are in a flood-risk area, select an additional area on the top floor of your facility. Areas with large flat roofs should be your last choice because flat roofs are particularly vulnerable.
2. The “Building Evacuation” Plan
Some types of emergencies, such as fires, flash floods, or earthquakes, call for evacuating children from the facility. Fire marshals in many states require early childhood programs to designate and mark exits for safe evacuation during fires. Your program can do even more to protect children by designating evacuation destinations where children can be sheltered until its safe to return to the building or until families arrive.
Select areas outside of your facility where you and your staff can gather children and remain out of the way of emergency vehicles. If you are in an earthquake area, choose places that are away from trees or buildings. Otherwise, select areas where children will be sheltered from wind, rain, and sun.
3. The “Off-Site Relocation” Plan
In an earthquake involving localized danger, you may need to relocate children and staff to a distant or off-site location. If your state and local emergency management agencies have not designated relocation sites for your program, you must find them yourself. If you can designate off-site relocation sites before a disaster, you can advise families during the annual orientation, in the family handbook, or by telephone as you evacuate.
Ideally, you should designate off-site relocation sites in two or more directions, in case one route or direction is unsafe. To designate off-site relocation sites, learn your community’s general evacuation routes. Study an area map to choose evacuation routes along major roads, avoiding bridges and overpasses where possible. Next, search for specific locations that could shelter your staff and children until they can reunite with their families. Perhaps you can establish reciprocal arrangements with early childhood programs in other communities, or ask a church, community center, or school to provide shelter.
4. The “Mandatory Closure” Plan
You may be ordered to close your facility temporarily because of an approaching hurricane, wildfire, or flood. In a serious epidemic, your public health agency may order early childhood programs and schools to close for a period of time. The health department should have a plan for notifying your program, but it is important to follow news reports about mandatory closings. This is particularly true if you operate a license-exempt program, because the public health agency may not know of your program’s existence.
To protect your program’s investments and to maintain communication with staff and families during the time the program is closed, you should plan to move computers, key learning materials for each age group, and other hard-to-replace items to a safer location.