Skip to main content

Planning, Organizing, and Practicing Emergency Procedures

Emergencies can happen at any time. Being prepared for emergencies can help you keep children and staff safe 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.

  • Distinguish between common types of emergencies and natural disasters.
  • Describe strategies for helping staff members prepare for emergencies in your program.
  • Model, observe, and provide feedback on staff members’ emergency preparedness.



Understanding Emergencies

Natural disasters, illnesses, injuries, or threats of violence can shatter the daily routine of a child care program. As a training and curriculum specialist, it is your job to keep children safe during these difficult events. You can also be a resource and comfort to families and communities that are struggling.

One of the first steps in responding to emergencies is understanding the types of disasters that might affect you and the children in your program’s care. As a trainer, it is your role to make sure staff members understand the disasters that could affect them.

Unusual events can require you to respond quickly. If there is the potential for injury or loss of life, these events are emergencies. Emergencies might affect your classrooms, program, local area, region, or the entire country. Examples of emergencies that typically affect child development and school-age programs are:

  • Injuries: Children and staff may experience bodily harm while in your program. This may result from falls, collisions, 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: A child could leave or be 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 most likely to encounter depends on the characteristics of the region in which you live. There are several types of disasters that might affect programs:

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

Making Sure Staff Members are Prepared for Emergencies

Your program has a contingency plan in place for emergencies. It is the responsibility of the trainer to make sure training requirements identified in your program’s emergency plan are conducted. Staff members must receive training on emergency procedures. They should have copies of the emergency plan located in their classrooms and programs, and they should have the opportunity to practice so they can respond appropriately when the real time comes. To complete their own Virtual Laboratory School lessons, staff members must become familiar with your program’s emergency plan in order to participate in the exercises and respond correctly to related assessment questions. Provide staff members with the information and experiences they need. Follow-up to make sure you feel confident that every staff member knows how to keep children safe. Involve staff in annual reviews of emergency plans and seek their input. This can make the plans more effective.

Your plan helps you answer questions like:

  • Where will children be relocated?
  • Have alternative sites been identified and arranged in advance?
  • How will you relocate children if an emergency occurs 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 emergenciesPUBLIC 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 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.

Part of your plan should include making sure you can operate your program and keep children safe during an emergency. You should consider the materials you would need to keep children fed, sheltered, and secure. You also should consider the documents you would need if children were evacuated or injured.

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 child-care programs as well. A stockroom should contain 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. You should consider the provisions you might need if parents cannot pick children up (for example, the military base is on lockdown, or travel restrictions are in place).

Protecting important documents: If your program were flooded, would you lose all of the children’s medical files, emergency contact files, and staff training files? It is important to make copies of all materials and store them in a safe, separate location. If possible, electronic copies of records stored on a secure, remote server can provide peace of mind. In the Apply section, you will find a guide for helping you learn about the emergency plans in your program.


What does emergency preparation look like? You can use video to share what preparation looks like across the country. Watch as these programs prepare for disasters in their areas.

Preparing for Emergencies with Infants and Toddlers

Watch how this program evacuates a multi-age group.

Preparing for Emergencies

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


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, the staff, and the children remain calm in the face of disaster. Remember to observe staff members during emergency drills. Make sure they always take sign-in sheets, emergency medications, and emergency contact information 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.

Visit the Child Care Aware site at to get planning ideas about specific conditions in your locale.


It is important to think about how you will respond in an emergency. Download and print the What Would You Do? Activity. Think about the scenarios. Describe how you would respond to each. You may not be responsible for informing staff and informing families in the event of an emergency. This may be a facility director’s, coordinator’s or administrator’s responsibility. You may be called upon to assist, though. It is a good exercise to sit down with your administrator and talk specifically about what your role would be in each of the scenarios presented in the activity.


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


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 unknown intruder entering the building?
What must you do to be ready for an emergency in your child development program?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics (no date). Children & Disasters: Disaster preparedness to meet children’s needs. Preparing Child Care Programs for Pandemic Influenza. Retrieved from

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

Child Care Aware of America (formerly National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 2011). Is Your Child Care Program Ready? A Disaster Planning Guide for Child Care Center and Family Child Care Homes.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) homepage. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Available at

FEMA/ Available at

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2007). Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria: The mark of quality in early childhood education. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The 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.