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Emergency Planning Guide for Child-Serving Organizations


Step 4:   Determine what actions may need to be taken during or in preparation for an emergency to achieve your emergency planning goals


For this step, we first provide examples of key actions that a child-serving organization might need to take during an emergency.

Then we provide detailed information that you can use to prepare your emergency plan that specifies how you will execute these actions.

The specific actions you may need to take before and during an emergency will depend on the nature of your organization (e.g., residential or day program), the population you serve (e.g., infants, toddlers, adolescents), and the risks you are most likely to encounter. For example, the type of food and supplies that your organization needs to stockpile will differ based on the ages of the population served.

Actions You Should Be Prepared to Undertake During an Emergency

Here we list some of the actions you may need to be prepared to undertake during an emergency for the first three example goals listed in Step 2. As you develop a new plan or refine your existing one, you will want create a list similar to this that is tailored to your organization. Below, we provide detailed information below on how to execute these actions during an emergency and how to prepare to undertake them.

Goal:   Protect the health and safety of children and staff.

Possible actions:

  • At first indication of a possible emergency, activate emergency plans.
  • Account for all children and staff in the facility.
  • Ensure that the special needs of vulnerable or at-risk children are met during the emergency.
  • Evacuate the facility, if deemed appropriate.
  • Lock down the facility and/or shelter-in-place*.
  • Provide supplies needed to maintain health and safety (e.g., drinking water, food, sanitation, communication, lighting, first aid kit).
  • Provide first aid, including psychological first aid.
  • Provide supervision beyond normal operating hours.
  • Shut off utilities (e.g., gas).
  • Communicate with families about the emergency situation.
  • Communicate with local emergency responders.

Goal:   Reunite children and their families.

Possible actions:

  • For residential and non-residential programs, communicate with families/caregivers about children's location and safety. For non-residential programs, communicate with families/caregivers about procedures for reunification.
  • Ensure that identification information is kept with each child (e.g., id bracelet, card pinned on shirt).
  • Provide information about children in your care to the National Emergency Child Locator Center (NECLC), which is activated by FEMA during large-scale disasters (1-866-908-9572).

Goal:   Restore basic or routine operations as quickly as possible.

Possible actions:

  • Access critical organization data and records (e.g., insurance information).
  • Access disaster relief resources available in your community.
  • Coordinate activities with relevant response organizations, such as emergency management, law enforcement, fire, public health, and social services.

Creating a Detailed Emergency Plan

Here we outline in greater detail how your organization can implement these actions during and after an emergency, and we provide information to help your organization develop a plan for how you would carry out these activities. The plan should include assigning a person (or persons) to be responsible for the action and a list of the partners or supplies that will be needed to carry it out. It is important to designate backup personnel to take responsibility for each action in case the primary person is not available. Also, the plan should be put in writing, and you can use our Emergency Preparedness Notebook Table of Contents as an example of how to organize all of the written material. When an emergency strikes, you can grab this notebook; it will have much of the information you would want on hand in one place. Plans should also be practiced, in conjunction with public safety and other outside entities, as appropriate. Afterward, the plans should be updated based on lessons learned during the practice exercises. We have included links to additional sources of information and tools that may assist you in your planning efforts.


Action:   At first indication of a possible emergency, activate emergency plans.

  • As soon as you get notice that an emergency situation is occurring, you should get your written emergency plan (part of an Emergency Preparedness Notebook Table of Contents) and begin to implement key activities. In some cases, such as a hurricane, you will have advance notice and may be able to focus on preparing children, staff, and the facility to mitigate the effects of the disaster. In other cases, you may have very little or even no notice (e.g., an earthquake or a bomb blast) and will need to jump right in to a full response and address issues such as evacuation or provision of basic medical care.


Action:   Account for all children and staff in the facility.

  • Develop an attendance system for children, staff members, and volunteers. If applicable to your organization, include ways to monitor what visitors are also in the facility. The system should include procedures to ensure that the attendance information is up to date on a daily basis, or more often, if appropriate for your type of organization. Attendance sheets should include the child's name, the names of a primary and secondary emergency contact and the contact information for those individuals, as well as a notation of any special needs or considerations for the child that would be relevant in an emergency situation (e.g., allergies, medication taken on a regular basis). Attendance information should be part of the organization's Emergency Preparedness Notebook. This information will help you determine whether any staff, visitors, or children in the facility are missing and may be in need of assistance.
  • Designate person (or persons) responsible for securing attendance information during an emergency situation. Also, designate alternates in case the person with primary responsibility is not available.


Action:   Evacuate the facility.

  • Include in your Emergency Preparedness Notebook critical information that would be needed if you must evacuate your facility. The file should include the following information:

    • current attendance information for children, staff, volunteers, and other visitors
    • contact information for each child's primary caregiver(s)
    • contact information for each staff member
    • medication administration forms (sample forms for medication administration and injury reporting are available at http://www.childhealthonline.org/downloadform.html)
    • contact numbers for response organizations, such as fire, rescue, poison control, emergency medical services, and local Red Cross.
    In large facilities with many rooms (e.g., school or large child care center), you may want to have an Emergency Preparedness Notebook for each room.
  • Identify evacuation destinations ahead of time. In some cases, it will be appropriate to evacuate to an outside location a safe distance from the building. In other cases, you may need to evacuate to an alternate location or facility. Government buildings, local schools, or child care facilities might be well suited as evacuation/relocation points. Consider contacting such organizations about serving as your relocation point. It is important to practice relocation activities to identify how the evacuation plan could be improved. Post evacuation and assembly maps in each room of your organization's building. A sample evacuation map and tips on elements to include in a map is available this OSHA web site: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/floorplan_demo.html.
  • Identify methods of transportation if required to relocate to different site. Consider any special transportation needs that children or staff may have. For example, if any children or staff use wheelchairs, transportation that can accommodate them will be needed.
  • Share planned evacuation destination information with families in advance of emergencies. Consider making the information part of orientation materials or participant manuals. Take advantage of opportunities to communicate with parents about the organization's evacuation plans. For example, after a disaster in another location (e.g., a tornado in another community), remind parents how your organization plans to respond if the disaster occurs in your community. Similarly, you could tie communication about evacuation plans to community events that focus attention on disaster preparedness, such as the "Great Shake Out" or National Preparedness Month.


Action:   Lock down the facility and/or shelter-in-place, depending on the hazard.*

  • Identify how the organization will communicate with staff if a lockdown or shelter-in-place is required and alert them when it is safe to go outside the building.
  • Identify and stockpile supplies needed to shelter in place. When thinking about supplies to stockpile, it is important to consider the special needs of the population you serve. Think about whether anyone will need any special food or equipment (e.g., medical equipment) to be healthy and function effectively while sheltering in place. In some emergencies, such as a chemical spill or bioterrorist attack, you will need supplies such as duct tape and plastic to seal windows, doors, and vents. The CDC provides hazard-specific supply lists for emergencies like these online at Emergency Preparedness and Response. Other supplies that may be needed more generally are discussed in the next bullet point below.
  • Identify where within the facility you will go in case of a lockdown or to shelter in place. You should look for a safe room that can be closed off from the rest of the facility and does not have windows. Plan to have supplies (e.g., food, water, toileting, radios, and flashlights) accessible in that location.


Action:   Provide supplies needed to maintain health and safety (e.g., water, food, sanitation, communication, lighting, first aid kit).

  • Identify the types and amounts of supplies needed to care for children and staff for 72 hours. The types of supplies your organization will need depend in part on the characteristics of the population you serve. The Sample Checklist for Emergency Supplies, developed by Healthy Childcare Consultants, Inc., provides a good starting point and is available in English and Spanish. Additionally, the Ready Classroom campaign has developed a useful School Emergency and "Go List" Kit Checklist. The main categories of supplies include:

    • drinking water—1 gallon per person per day is recommended
    • food—consider any special dietary needs or restrictions (e.g., food allergies, religious beliefs) as you develop your stockpile of food
    • sanitation (e.g., tissues, wipes, bleach, toothpaste and toothbrushes)
    • clothing and blankets
    • first aid and medications
    • communication (e.g., radios)
    • equipment (e.g., batteries, flashlights, fire extinguishers).
  • Develop a plan for maintaining and refreshing emergency supplies. For example, food supplies such as canned meats and peanut butter have a shelf life of approximately one year. (Read the NACCRRA report with more detailed information about food shelf-life, page 58). One way to avoid wasting stockpiled food supplies is to store foods that you serve to children regularly. Then you can rotate food out of the stockpile before it expires.


Action:   Provide first aid, including psychological first aid, if appropriate.

  • Ensure that appropriate first aid supplies are available throughout the facility. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care (http://nrckids.org) recommends the following items be included in a first aid kit: Disposable nonporous gloves; scissors; tweezers; nonglass thermometer to measure a child's temperature; bandage tape; sterile gauze pads; flexible roller gauze; triangular bandages; safety pins; sterile eye bandage; pen/pencil and note pad; cold pack; water; small plastic or metal splints; liquid soap; adhesive strip bandages; plastic bags for cloths, gauze, and other materials used in handling blood; any emergency medication needed for a child with special needs; and the Poison Control Center phone number (1-800-222-1222). Healthy Childcare Consultants, Inc., has also developed a more extensive checklist outlining what first aid kits should include.
  • Train staff to administer first aid and CPR. Consider making training part of staff orientation activities or regularly held organization-wide retreats. The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/en/takeaclass) offers training in first aid and CPR in many communities. Your organization could partner with the American Red Cross, or another organization that offers such training, to ensure your organization's staff are prepared to address basic medical needs on a day-to-day basis and during an emergency.
  • Your staff should be trained in the basic elements of psychological first aid, so that they can help themselves and the children and families that your organization serves deal with the disaster and recover more quickly. Psychological first aid is an approach for assisting people in the aftermath of a disaster. It is designed to reduce initial distress and foster coping. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the National Center for PTSD have generated psychological first aid resources that are available online. In particular there is a detailed field operations manual and a set of "Parent Tips" tailored for different age groups.


Action:   Shut off utilities that pose hazards (e.g., gas).

  • Designate a person (or persons) responsible for shutting off the utilities when recommended by the local utility company. You should also identify an alternate person (or persons) in case the person with primary responsibility is not available. In addition, include shut off information (e.g., where valves are located, how to shut them off) in the emergency plan.
  • Coordinate with local utilities to determine how information about the need for shutting off utilities will be disseminated.


Action:   Provide supervision beyond normal operating hours.

  • In some emergency situations, such as those that affect a broad geographic area, families/caregivers may be delayed in being able to reach the organization. Develop a plan for ensuring that adequate staff members are available to supervise children during and beyond normal operating hours.
  • It is important to consider any special needs that children or staff may have in an emergency and incorporate them into your plan. For example, if you have children with food allergies, that will affect what types of food you stockpile for use in an emergency. Similarly, your organization may serve children with chronic health conditions and may need to provide medication in an emergency. Identifying these needs ahead of time and incorporating them into your plan will facilitate a better, more effective response.
  • In a large-scale disaster, it may take time, from hours to days, to reconnect children with their parents or guardians. Emergency plans need to address this possibility and outline how the organization will care for children over a prolonged time period. It is important to communicate this plan to parents and families, so that they know how their children will be cared for when they are unable to physically be with them in an emergency. Managing parent expectations ahead of time can facilitate a smoother, more effective response.


Action:   Communicate with families during the emergency situation.

  • Maintain current emergency contact information for each child, volunteer, and staff member and include it in your organization's Emergency Preparedness Notebook. The contact information should include both phone numbers (home, work, and cell phone) and email addresses for multiple people. It is important to have contact information for at least one person outside of the area. The emergency contact information should be updated regularly (every 6-12 months). It is a good idea to store a copy of the contact information off-site in case the facility is damaged and the information is inaccessible. It is also important to determine whether any of the people served by your organization have special communication needs and plan accordingly. For example, some parents may be hearing- or sight-impaired, making some types of messages more appropriate than others. Others may prefer messages in languages other than English.
  • Identify multiple ways you can contact parents in an emergency. In some cases, standard methods will be available for contacting parents; in others, it is possible that you will not have electricity or working phone lines. In these cases, you will need to have contingency plans in place for how you will communicate with parents and families (e.g., emergency voicemail/text/email alias).
  • Discuss emergency communication plans with staff members and families. Distribute communication plans annually, or when there are changes made to the plan.
  • We discuss communicating with families in advance of emergencies in Step 6.


Action:   Communicate with local emergency responders during an emergency.

  • During an emergency, you may need to communicate with emergency responders to provide information and/or request assistance or support. The contact numbers for these organizations (e.g., the fire department, the police, poison control) should be in your emergency plan and in your Emergency Preparedness Notebook. In some cases, the phone lines may be jammed or not working at all. You should consider alternative communication methods, such as two-way radios or websites.


Action:   Ensure that identification information is kept with each child.

  • Prepare identification bracelets or cards that can be pinned on clothing for each child. The cards should include information that will assist in reuniting children with families, such as names, phone numbers, and home address. This is particularly important for organizations serving young children or children with limited communication skills. It may also be useful to include hard copy and digital images of children that could be used to assist in reunification.


Action:   Provide information about children in your care to the National Emergency Child Locator Center (NECLC), which is activated by FEMA during large scale disasters (1-866-908-9572).

  • It may be useful to have a current digital photo of each child that could be used to assist in reunification.


Action:   Access critical organization data and records (e.g., insurance information).

  • Keep a copy of all important records in a portable container that is both waterproof and fireproof.
  • Keep a copy of all important records in an offsite location.
  • Regularly back up any computer systems and keep a copy of the backup at an offsite location.
  • Record the location of these items in your Emergency Preparedness Notebook.


Action:   Access disaster relief resources available in your community.

  • Identify resources in your community that you can access in the event of an emergency. It is important to determine ahead of time how these resources can be accessed (e.g., who to call, whether there are any forms that have to be filled out, whether advance formal arrangements need to be made with organizations), so that it can be done quickly in the event of an emergency.


You may find information about actions you have identified that are not on this list in our Recommended Links section.


* Lockdown and shelter in place refer to situations in which all people present at a facility at one time need to remain in the facility, either for their immediate safety (primarily in the case of lockdowns) or because the facility is the best option for providing shelter for the children, staff, volunteers, visitors to the facility, and, in some cases, other members of the community who do not have shelter elsewhere.



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