Building a business
Creating a disaster plan
Recent events have shown the vulnerability of schools and other facilities to disasters. These may include natural events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires as well as man-made events such as hazardous material spills, explosions, security threats, and mass casualty incidents.
Anyone entrusted with the care of children needs to have a plan in place for responding to such emergencies. A quick and reasoned response can reduce trauma, lessen injury, and save lives. It can also assist staff and families in returning to normalcy.
An excellent guidebook, Preparing for Disaster: What Every Early Childhood Director Needs to Know, is available from Gryphon House (2009, $14.95). Authors Cathy Grace and Elizabeth Shores, who worked with programs in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, explain the steps directors can take to protect people and property.
The guidebook describes how to lead staff in creating a disaster readiness master plan, using worksheets and checklists.
Protecting children and staff
Depending on the type of disaster, you may shelter children in your facility or evacuate them to another location. In the shelter-in-place component, you will draw a floor plan that shows which rooms will serve as shelter. The evacuation component will identify a relocation site and a map of the route to reach it. Both will include phone numbers to call for search and rescue assistance.
Staff are responsible for placing identification tags on children, gathering their records, and escorting them to the appropriate location. Staff members can reduce children’s stress by shielding them from frightening scenes, staying calm, and giving reassurance that they are safe.
In some cases, such as an approaching storm, you may be advised to close your facility temporarily. After notifying families, you will need to move essential records, computers, and learning materials as well as turn off utilities and secure windows and doors. A checklist will remind you which items you have decided to move and which staff you have assigned to be responsible for each item.
In the aftermath of a disaster, you may have to close your facility temporarily to make repairs. Worksheets will help you plan for back-up of records, insurance claims, and equipment replacement.
It’s possible that you can modify your facility to reduce damage from a potential disaster, such as a fire. Your local emergency management agency may help you assess risk, and contractors can provide cost estimates for modifications.
Communicating with key people
In an emergency, communication is critical. It’s imperative to have a list of phone numbers to contact children’s parents, families of staff, and agencies with whom you work. Agencies may include your regulatory agency, nutrition program, early childhood intervention, health department, and child care resource and referral.
It’s a good idea to have a memorandum of understanding with a mental health agency should your children, families, and employees need counseling after experiencing trauma.
Planning with staff
Staff need to know what they must do in an emergency. Involving them in planning not only trains them for emergency tasks but also allows them to give input that will enable them to feel ownership of the plan. The guidebook contains outlines for the following eight staff planning sessions:
1. Promoting resilience in children
2. Child safety precautions
3. Infection control
4. Basic and advanced first aid
5. Sheltering in place
6. Building evacuation
7. Off-site relocation
8. Helping children cope after disasters.
Helping children cope
A companion book, After the Crisis: Using Storybooks to Help Children Cope, offers a useful resource for the eighth planning session. Written by the same authors, this publication focuses on supporting children after such events as earthquakes, epidemics and mass casualty situations, fires and explosions, floods, and hurricanes and other storms.
After the Crisis contains activities you can use in conjunction with 50 children’s books. Activities are aimed at various age ranges, such as 3- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 8-year-olds. They consist of suggested questions for starting conversations, art activities, and writing activities.
You can find additional resources for creating disaster plans at the following websites:
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/Information_for_Providers/Emergency_Preparedness.asp. The site includes an article that originally ran in the Fall 2009 issue of Texas Child Care.
Red Cross. www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4240206_PrepYourBusfortheUnthinkable.pdf. This PDF file offers a three-page handout on preparing a disaster plan. A related Red Cross site is www.prepare.org.