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    • Identify different types of emergencies and elements to consider when drafting safety plans.
    • Develop your own safety action plans.
    • Practice and document your safety plans.




    Disasters or injuries can shatter the daily routines in your family child care. As a family child care provider, you have to keep children safe during these difficult events. You can also be a resource and comfort to families and your community in the aftermath of a disaster.

    Types of Emergencies and Knowing your Risk

    Occasionally, unusual events occur that require quick action. If there is potential for injury, harm, or loss of life, these events are emergencies. Examples of emergencies that may affect a family child care setting include:

    • Injuries: Where a child, you, or other adults who may assist you experience bodily harm. This may result from falls, accidents, or contact with poisons. We will address injuries in more detail in the next lesson.
    • Inclement weather: Snow, ice, or extreme heat.
    • Technology failure: Electricity or water outages.
    • Missing child: When a child leaves or is taken from the child care without authorization.

    When emergencies are more severe, affect a larger number of people, or present a stronger risk, they can be thought of as disasters. The kinds of disasters you may encounter often vary by the region in which you live. There are different types of disasters that may affect family child care providers:

    1. Natural disasters: This includes floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, forest fires, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, or other similar events.
    2. Technological disasters: This includes explosions, nuclear fallout, severe power or gas outages, drinking water shortages, oil spills, or fires.
    3. Terrorism: This includes acts of violence or threats of violence against individuals or groups. Examples may include bombings, shooting, kidnappings, hijacking, or use of biological weapons.
    4. Illness or epidemic: This involves the rapid spread of severe, potentially deadly illness like the flu.

    It is important for you and any other adults who might work with you to consider the types of emergencies you may face; some natural disasters, for example tornados or earthquakes, are more likely in some parts of the world. Not all emergencies are disasters. It is likely that at some point you will experience more common emergencies, such as inclement weather, brief or localized power or water outages, or child injuries during play. It is important that you are prepared to respond to all emergencies, big and small.

    Planning for Emergencies and Disasters

    Your job as a family child care provider is to plan for various emergencies, to prepare the children and any other adults who may assist you, and to protect the children and the environment during an emergency.

    When developing emergency plans, you should answer questions such as:

    • Based upon the type of emergency, where will the children be safest?
    • Where is a good place to relocate if needed? Have alternative sites been identified and arranged in advance?
    • How will I relocate children if an emergency occurs?
    • How will parents be notified?

    As a family child care provider, especially if you are most often alone caring for children, you will need to give careful consideration to how you will appropriately monitor all the children during an emergency. Because of the special nature of family child care, thoroughly thought-out safety plans are a must. The more detailed and practiced you are, the more you can focus on execution and supervising when an emergency occurs. 

    Your emergency plans will likely also contain information about the following situations, and the plans you create and their details may be specific to the type of emergency or disaster.

    Evacuation plans: You and other adults who may assist you, including back-up providers, need to know where you will go in the event of a tornado, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Develop evacuation plans that include: evacuation procedures, the relocation destination, and how to escort and transport everyone to the destination, particularly infants and children with special needs. Evacuation locations may be different depending on the type of natural disaster or emergency. For fires, they should be at least 75 feet from the building. Prior to an emergency, ensure that evacuation sites can accommodate the needs of children and youth in your care. Also ensure that you have any needed emergency provisions ready at that location. Identify in plans when another adult is needed to assist and how he or she will be contacted and trained. These plans need to be posted in the areas in your home where you care for children.

    Shelter in place or lockdown plans: You need to know what to do if government officials order individuals to take shelter. This is likely in the event of a terrorist threat, a shooter in the vicinity, risky weather conditions, or other unsafe conditions. While sheltered in place, you should not leave your home and others should not be allowed to enter. As needed, you should know how to lock down your home or a portion of your home and barricade entrances if necessary. It is important to consider how you will supervise children and calm them during a shelter-in-place situation. As part of these plans, you should have a way to communicate with families and any other staff. Remember, unsafe situations may make it impossible to move around the home. Practice shelter-in-place and lockdown plans at least quarterly.

    Communicating with other back-up providers, family child care administrators, central agencies and offices: Disaster can strike at any time. Know the chain of communication for emergencies and have up-to-date rosters for any additional staff or important external points of contact. For certain emergencies, it may be necessary for your identified back-up adult to assist you; make sure you are able to reach her or him quickly and she or he understands the responsibility to come immediately in emergencies.

    Communicating with families: You need to know how you will communicate with families if you and the children experience an emergency or are evacuated to another location. How will you let families know where they can find their children? It is also important to know how you will let families know if your program is forced to close. Part of the plan should include how families will be contacted, what will be communicated, and how appropriate supervision of children will be maintained while communicating with families. To prepare for these instances, it may be useful to have a “group” contact function established so that you can send one text, call, or email and have it quickly disseminated to all families.

    Emergency provisions: The federal government recommends that families have enough provisions (food, clean water, infant formula, diapers) to last three days without power. This is a good goal for family child care providers also. You should have nonperishable food items, gallons of water, pre-packaged infant formula, diapers, extra clothing, first-aid kits, batteries, flashlights, storm radios, blankets, and any other supplies that might be needed in a disaster. You should consider the provisions you might need if parents cannot pick children up (for example, you are on a military base on lockdown or travel restrictions are in place).

    In addition, it can be helpful to create a children’s activity provisions checklist that at minimum includes basic art supplies, such as paper, crayons, and books. These items will help keep children calm and occupied during an emergency.

    Protecting important documents: If your home was flooded, would you lose all of the children's medical files, emergency contact files, and your training files? It is important to make copies of all materials and store them in a safe, separate location. Electronic copies of records stored on a secure, remote server can provide peace of mind.

    Staying aware: As a family child care provider, your focus is on the children in your care throughout the day. You may not always be aware of potential disasters since you are not constantly watching the news. Discuss with your family child care administrator strategies for staying informed about potential threats. One useful strategy may be to enroll in a text alert system from your local news station. This way, you can be informed as early as possible about potential emergencies and begin executing your plans.

    Other key things to consider in preparing and responding to emergencies

    • Ensure that smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are working and document this monthly.
      • Carbon monoxide detectors should be located within 10 feet of each bedroom, but not near diaper-changing stations or where soiled diapers are stored.
      • Smoke detectors should be in each area where children sleep and play. Best practice indicates that smoke detectors should be wired such that if one is activated, all detectors in the home will go off to alert of danger.
      • An ABC-type fire extinguisher should be located in or near the kitchen and on each floor used by children. Instructions for how to use the extinguisher should be posted.
    • Post primary and secondary evacuation routes and procedures in the areas of your home where you care for children.
    • Ensure that all rooms occupied by children have an exit leading directly outside or a large window, less than 44 inches above the finished floor, and that there are no interior or exterior barriers (including snow and ice) that would make it difficult to exit.
    • Ensure that doors to the outside can be opened with a single release so you can easily exit when needed.
    • Post emergency telephone numbers by all phones and in all areas of the home where children are cared for. Include the following numbers:
      • 911 (or local police, fire, rescue)
      • Poison control center
      • Family contact information
      • Two emergency contacts for each child
      • Contact for back-up provider
      • A nurse, doctor or other medical consultant
      • Family child care administrator
    • Make sure that a cell phone is fully charged at the beginning of each day and that emergency numbers are pre-programmed, especially if this is the primary phone line.
    • Practice and document routine drills, such as fire evacuations, monthly. Make sure you practice at different times of day, including some times when the children are resting or sleeping so that you and the children are prepared to respond. Practicing is essential for you and the children. Older children who are well acquainted with the emergency plans can help you maintain a calm atmosphere and can serve as good models for the younger children in your care. During drills and in discussion of emergency practices, make sure you and the children know not to pick up additional clothing or personal items during an evacuation. If you or the children are worried about being cold or wet after an evacuation, you can keep blankets in a specific location near the main exit of your home. During exit, you, or a designated older child who understands and practices this job, can bring the blankets to the evacuation point to distribute to everyone once there.
    • Provide children with age-appropriate information about natural disasters without frightening them; purchase books that show children how to cope with significant change. You can also invite or visit local emergency service workers (e.g., firefighters) to help increase children’s awareness, knowledge and comfort regarding what to do in emergencies and how to prevent them.
    • Help children, as they are able, to learn their full names, addresses, and telephone numbers and how to dial 911 or other local emergency numbers.
    • Provide families with procedures for natural disasters. Make sure they understand how and when they will be contacted and any relocation sites. This is good information to include in your family handbook, but also something to highlight when you enroll new families.
    • Keep a copy of your emergency response plans in an easily accessible spot in your home, so you can readily locate it when needed. If you have assistants, or in event of your absence, make sure your identified back-up and other providers know about all the emergency plans, what their roles are, and how to administer first aid.
    • For epidemics, connect with your local health department and include them in all aspects of your planning and preparation activities.
    • To help stop an epidemic, practice regular infection-control measures by following strong health and sanitation practices (discussed in more detail in the Health course).

    Helping Families Cope with Disasters

    • Provide a list of resources available in the community. These resources can be for helping families in their preparation for disasters and also in the aftermath of a disaster. Watch for stress disorders in children and families. Know of resources, including mental health services, that families may access to better cope with stress.
    • Provide an emotionally supportive environment to families and children that allows them to express their fears and grief.
    • After disasters, it is particularly important to provide a predictable daily routine as much as possible.
    • In the event of an act of terrorism, help children and families cope with the stress of the event by keeping them from frightening scenes, remaining clam, and assuring them you will keep them safe.
    • In the event of an epidemic, practice social distancing, which involves avoiding public places during the crisis to reduce contact between sick and unaffected persons. In addition, provide regular communication to families about the status of your program. If you had to close temporarily, help families with contingency plans and let them know when you plan to be operational again and steps you have taken to stop the spread of disease.


    Besides keeping children safe, one of the most important jobs you will do as a family child care provider is being well prepared for emergencies. While developing emergency plans and evacuation routes is often a requirement of becoming a licensed or registered family child care provider, it’s also important to frequently practice your plans and update them as needed. If there is ever an emergency, you will want to know you did all you could to minimize its effects on children. The families of the children you care for will be grateful for your worthwhile planning effort.


    Preparing for Emergencies

    Think about these questions when developing your emergency plans.


    Use the attached form (below) to help you prepare and respond in emergency situations. Remember to think about some of the details noted above—for example, if you are caring for infants, how will you safely transport them out of the home? Do you have an emergency bag stocked in an easy, grab-and-go location? (Look for more details on creating emergency bags in the Apply section.) Make sure to list the steps you will follow so that you can think carefully through how you will respond in each emergency.

    Now, test your plan. Think about what works well and what doesn’t. What do you need to update to make your plans work more effectively? Testing out your safety plan may also help you realize how the physical environment may need to be rearranged, for example, to make sure that the items you need are readily available, or that you have two clear pathways to an exit.

    Store the forms in your emergency kit. Make sure you have clearly posted fire evacuation routes in in the areas of your home where you care for children. Check with your state licensing agent to learn what other safety forms and materials should be posted in your family child care home.



    Take some time to reflect on how you react in very stressful situations. When there is a true emergency, children will often take their cues from you about how to respond, so keeping a level head is particularly important in ensuring children’s safety. Think carefully about strategies that help you remain calm and focused in a crisis, and practice these strategies during your safety drills. What strategies help the individual children in your care remain calm and focused? Think about how you can incorporate the ideas you generate during this activity into your emergency plans.

    To help you think more deeply about how you would respond in an emergency, review the What Would You Do? Activity. Think about and describe how you would respond to each scenario. It is a good exercise to sit down with your family child care administrator and talk specifically about your responses to these various scenarios to make sure you are fulfilling all your roles as a family child care provider.



    Disasters can happen anytime and anywhere. It is important to be prepared. Having premade emergency kits will let you focus on the important steps outlined in your emergency action plan instead of wasting time finding or collecting items. Use the resources below to help you think about what might be necessary to include in your emergency bag, then create your own emergency bags and store them in the most appropriate places in your home.

    Creating emergency plans is only one part of preparing for emergencies—it’s equally, if not more important, to remain diligent about practicing and documenting safety drills. Remember to vary the time of day you conduct drills, so you, any additional adults, and the children are better prepared to handle emergencies at any point during the day. During drills, go through your entire plan and time yourself; drills should include a test communication to families or other important external points of contact so you are well prepared to update families or others when a real emergency occurs. While it is important during evacuation drills to move in a swift, orderly fashion, make sure that you and the children are not running, as further accidents could take place. Fire drills should take no longer than two minutes for evacuation, and timeliness should increase with practice. After the drill, take time to reflect on what went well during the drill and what you can improve on next time. Also, remember your state licensing agent or family child care administrator will want to see documentation regarding safety drills.


    Business Continuity PlanSet of documents, instructions, and procedures which enable a business to respond to accidents, disasters, emergencies
    EpidemicA sudden outbreak of a disease. A pandemic is an epidemic that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent, or the world
    EvacuationTemporary but rapid removal of people from building or disaster area or threatened area for rescue or as a precautionary measure
    Mandatory closingA command or order by a government entity to close your business either temporarily or permanently
    Natural DisastersAn event caused by natural forces of nature that often has a significant effect on human populations
    Shelter in placeTo stay inside the building you are in to avoid adverse conditions in the outside environment
    TerrorismThe unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons




    What must you do to be ready for an emergency in your family child care program?


    True or False? Evacuation plans should be posted in your family child care setting.


    What type of emergency involves explosions, nuclear fallout, severe power or gas outages, drinking water shortages, or oil spills?

    References & Resources

    American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. 2011. Caring for Our Children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Also available at

    American Academy of Pediatrics (no date). Children & Disasters: Disaster preparedness to meet children's needs. Available at Emergency Management Agency -

    Child Care Aware (formerly National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies)

    Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. (2012). Emergency Family Assistance Centers: An Examination of the Literature for Evidence-Informed Practices. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University.

    Federal Emergency Management Agency -

    Grace, C., & Shores, E. (2010). Preparing For Disaster, What Every Early Childhood Director Needs To Know. Boston: Gryphon House.

    National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC, 2017). Quality Standards for NAFCC Accreditation. Available at

    Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scale 

    Sesame Street: Let's Get Ready for Emergencies