- Identify types of emergencies that may occur in a preschool classroom.
- Recognize types of disasters that may be unique to program location.
- Create a written emergency plan for your program.
- Practice your program’s emergency plan.
Natural disasters, illnesses, injuries, or threats of violence can shatter the daily routine of a child care program. As teachers and caregivers, it is our job to keep children safe during these difficult events. We can also be a resource and comfort to families and communities that are struggling.
Types of Emergencies and Knowing Your Risk
One of the first steps in responding to emergencies is understanding the types of disasters that might affect you and the children in your care.
From time to time, unusual events happen that require you to respond quickly. If there is the potential for injury, harm, or loss of life, these events are emergencies. Emergencies might affect your classroom, program, local area, region, or the entire country. Examples of emergencies that typically affect child development programs are:
- Injuries: Children and staff may experience bodily harm while in your program. This may result from falls, accidents, or contact with poisonous substances.
- Inclement weather: Snow, ice, or extreme heat can impact the safety of children and families.
- Technology failure: Electricity or water outages can impact the way your program operates.
- Missing child: This type of emergency occurs when a child leaves or is taken from the program without authorization.
When emergencies are more severe, affect a larger number of people, or present a stronger risk, they become disasters. Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. The type of disaster you are likely to encounter depends on the many characteristics of the region in which you live. There are several types of disasters that might affect child care programs:
- Natural disasters:
This type of disaster includes flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, forest fires, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, or other similar events.
This type of disaster includes explosions, nuclear fallout, severe power or gas outages, drinking water shortages, oil spills, or fires.
This type of disaster includes acts of violence or threats of violence against individuals or groups. Examples may include bombings, shootings, kidnappings, hijacking, or use of biological weapons.
- Illness or epidemic:
This type of disaster involves the rapid spread of severe, potentially deadly illnesses like the flu.
It is important for you and your team to understand the types of emergencies you are likely to face. Certain natural disasters, in particular, are more likely to affect certain regions of the country or world.
It is also important to remember that not all emergencies are disasters. It is very likely that your program will experience common emergencies like inclement weather, failure of electricity or water, or injuries on the playground. You must be prepared to respond to all emergencies large and small.
What does emergency preparation look like? Watch how this program prepares for disasters in their area.
As you watch this video, listen to how this teacher talks to children about safety, fear, and preparedness.
Making a Plan
The most important thing you can do to prepare for an emergency is make a plan. This plan should be in writing. All staff and families should know about the plan.
Your plan helps you answer questions like:
- Where will children be relocated?
- In the event of a center evacuation, where will your center regroup?
- Have alternate sites been identified and arranged in advance in case of an extended displacement from your center?
- How will you relocate children if emergency occurred during normal operating hours?
- How will parents be notified?
- What are individual staff member responsibilities?
Your emergency plan may also contain information about the following situations:
Communicating with families: You need to know how you will communicate with families if you and the children 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 who will contact families, what will be communicated, and how teacher-to-child ratio will be maintained.
You should keep a copy of your program's emergency response plan in each classroom for reference.
In the Apply section, you will find a guide for helping you learn about the emergency plans in your program.
Practicing Your Plan
Once a plan is in place, practicing it can help relieve anxiety and help you feel prepared should the real event occur. It can also help you and the children remain calm in the face of disaster. Remember to always take your sign-in sheet, emergency medications, and emergency contact information with you during all evacuations and practices. This will help you remember them should the real event happen. Your evacuation plans (fire, tornado, lockdown) should be practiced at least monthly. Other emergency plans should be practiced at least yearly. Review of your emergency plan and evacuation plan must be included in new employee orientation and training.
Disasters can happen anytime and anywhere. It is important to be prepared. Review the Creating a Kit activity. Use the Preparing Your Emergency Kit list found in the Apply section to help you think about what may be needed. Fill it out based on your program. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator. Then compare your answers to the suggested responses.
Use these forms to help you prepare and respond to emergency situations. Review the forms and complete the information that you need. Store the forms in your emergency kit.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Preparing child care programs for pandemic influenza. Children & Disasters: Disaster Preparedness to Meet Children's Needs. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Children-and-Disasters/Pages/Preparing-Child-Care-Programs-for-Pandemic-Influenza.aspx
American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. (4th ed.). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://nrckids.org/CFOC
Child Care Aware America of America. (2011). Is your child care program ready? A disaster planning guide for child care centers and family child care homes. https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/crisis-and-disaster-resources/child-care-emergency-preparedness/
The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness (2012). Emergency family assistance centers: An examination of the literature for evidence-informed practices. The Pennsylvania State University.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2007). Early childhood program standards and accreditation criteria: The mark of quality in early childhood education. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
United States Department of Homeland Security. (2020, February 3). Plan ahead for disasters. Ready. https://www.ready.gov