How to Build Emergency Preparedness Into Your Early Education Center
For even a seasoned child care provider, a new classroom of eager young learners can feel like a whirlwind – but what happens when there’s an actual storm outside?
Children have unique needs and risks during natural disasters. As Save the Children has reported,
- Developmental risks: Young children thrive on routine and stability. Disruptions to their everyday lives, including shelter and school, interrupt this development.
- Protection risks: Children are dependent on their caretakers for both relational stability and protection; when families are separated or in a shelter, children are at risk.
- Physical and medical needs: Emergency and medical personnel may not be as familiar with the needs of children or may not have the supplies to meet their immediate needs, such as diapers or formula.
Disasters don’t strike on a predictable schedule and storms may come on with little warning. Child care centers must be prepared to actively take care of children and meet their needs until parents/guardians are able to be reunited. Save the Children’s toolkit helps providers prepare for the unexpected. Every center should have an emergency plan which includes, at a minimum:
- Plans to evacuate and move children to as safe location
- Notification and reunification plans for parents and/or guardians
- Information on addressing special needs of any children in their care
Since many disasters may take out electricity and internet access, centers should document their plans and family contact information “the old fashioned” way as well.
Providers may be focused on evacuation plans, including preparing children with drills, but they should also prepare emergency kits just like families do at home in case there is a delay in help reaching them. The Pediatric Preparedness Ambassadors Program lists the following:
- First aid kit
- Flashlights and tool kit
- Telephone, charge, and generator
- Baby food/formula, water, and medications
- Diapers, bathroom tissue, and wet wipes
Child care centers and schools provide a crucial source of stability and a resource for recovery. Being able to quickly reopen child care services in the aftermath of disaster provides a much-needed return to routine, creating a safe space for children to process and, of course, play. But even when a center is ready to reopen its doors, staff, parents, and children may still struggle with the after-effects of a disaster.
Children will respond to their experiences in a disaster differently based on a range of factors, including the severity of their experience, their support network and family resources, pre-existing trauma, and age. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides guidance on the needs of children after a disaster based on their age and development. It is important the be prepared for the different ways infants and toddlers respond to stress (“fussiness,” increased clinging) as opposed to preschoolers (where the trauma may present itself in how they play). Center should consider providing training on these different reactions as part of their ongoing professional development, rather than trying to adapt in the event of a disaster.
PBS recommends creating safe opportunities for children to talk about what they have experienced or seen, even if they only saw it on TV. Rather than rushing to reassure children when adults themselves are shaken up, it is appropriate to acknowledge a child’s sadness and fear, and our own, and reaffirm to them that people are here to take care of them. It may be natural for those who serve as caregivers every day to rush to make everyone feel better, without taking time to process their own fear, anger, and sadness. Professionals who work with traumatized children regularly, such as mental health professionals, are at-risk for “secondary traumatic stress” – creating opportunities for staff to decompress together and offering flexibility where possible can go a long way to supporting a resilient staff during a difficult time.
Fyv is one tool providers can use to plan for the unexpected and communicate with parents. Providers can develop an emergency preparedness plan as outlined above, then insert it into their handbook and Fyv profile. This allows parents to feel comfortable that their center has considered these options, in a situation where communication can be critical. It can be unpleasant to imagine a “worst-case scenario” for the children in your care, but by creating a plan, developing an emergency kit, and working to create an emotionally supportive environment, child care providers can help families weather any storm.
The Fyv app is availble to download on both the Apple Store and Google Play Store.