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Preparing for Emergencies

Emergencies can happen any time. Being prepared for potential emergencies can help you keep children safe and stay calm during stressful situations. This lesson will focus on helping you plan, organize, and practice evacuation and emergency procedures in advance. This includes contingency procedures such as for tornadoes, terrorist threats, epidemics, and other emergencies.

  • Recognize types of emergencies that may occur in a school-age program.
  • Identify types of disasters that may be unique to program location.
  • Distinguish the difference between an emergency and a disaster.
  • Create and practice a written emergency plan.



Natural disasters, illnesses, injuries, or threats of violence can shatter the daily routine of a school-age program. As staff members 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 planning for emergencies is understanding the types of disasters that might affect you and the children in your care.

Unusual events sometimes require you to respond quickly. If there is the potential for injury, harm, or loss of life, these events are considered emergencies. Emergencies might affect your program, local area, region, or the entire country. Examples of emergencies that typically affect school-age 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 affect the safety of children and families.
  • Technology failure: Electricity or water outages can affect 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 can be thought of as disasters. The type of disaster you are likely to encounter depends on the characteristics of the region in which you live. There are several types of disasters that might affect school-age programs:

  • Natural disasters: This type of emergency includes flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, forest fires, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, or other similar events. 
  • Technological: This includes explosions, nuclear fallout, severe power or gas outages, drinking water shortages, oil spills, or fires.
  • Terrorism: This 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 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 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.

Preparing for Emergencies

Watch how this school-age program prepares for natural disasters.


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?
  • Have alternate sites been identified and arranged in advance?
  • 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:

Evacuation plans: You need to know where to go in the event of a tornado, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster. You also need to have a plan for how and where you will transport children if your area is evacuated for flooding, technological disasters, or other reasons. These plans should be posted in the classroom.

Shelter-in-place plans: You need to know what to do if administrators or government officials order individuals to take shelter. This is the likely response to a terrorist threat, a shooter in the vicinity, risky weather conditions, or other unsafe conditions. While sheltered in place, you will not be allowed to leave the building and others will not be allowed to enter the building. Shelter-in-place plans should be posted in the classroom. As part of this plan, your team should also have a way of communicating that teams must take shelter and communicating with one another while sheltered in place. Unsafe situations may make it impossible to move about the building.

Lock-down plans: You need to know what to do if your classroom is ordered to lock down. Lockdowns occur in the event of an unknown intruder or active shooter. You must know how to lock and barricade your doors and procedures for supervising children.

Communicating with other staff: Disaster can strike at any time. Know the chain of communication for emergencies and have updated staff phone rosters at home. You need to know how you will contact your administrator if you cannot come to work. You also need to know how you will find out if your program is closed or relocated due to disasters. Remember telephone lines may be affected by emergencies. Administrators or others may consider leaving an outgoing message on their answering machines or voice mails and communicating via the media.

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 the provider to child ratio will be maintained.

You should keep a copy of your program's emergency response plan in each program 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. 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. Read and review the Preparing for Emergencies 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.


Use these forms to help you prepare and respond to emergency situations. Review the forms below and complete the information that you need. Store the forms in your emergency kit. 


An illness that affects a large portion of the population. An epidemic of influenza is an example that could be debilitating to businesses, schools, communities, and families
The act of clearing all children, staff, and families from a specific location
Food and water resources sufficient to maintain the health of your population for a designated period of time
Shelter-in-place Plans:
This occurs when you are directed to stay in one location during an emergency. Movement within the building may be restricted, or travel in the larger community may be limited


What type of emergency involves explosions, nuclear fallout, gas leaks, or chemical spills?
Which of the following emergency responses is most likely in the case of an intruder entering the building?
What must you do to be ready for an emergency in your school-age program?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics (n.d.). Children & disasters: Disaster preparedness to meet children's needs. Preparing Child Care Programs for Pandemic Influenza. 

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. 

Child Care Resource Center. (2013). Emergency preparedness toolkit for child care programs. Child Care Resource Center. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency.; The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness (2012). Emergency Family Assistance Centers: An Examination of the Literature for Evidence-Informed Practices. The Pennsylvania State University. https://militaryfamilies.psu.ed

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.