Resources and Tools
Emergency Planning Guide for Child-Serving Organizations
Step 6: Communicate your plan to staff, parents, and other relevant individuals and organizations
Once you have a plan in place, it is very important that all staff members, families, and children that your organization serves know about it and feel a sense of "buy-in" to the plan. Communication during an emergency will be more successful if everyone knows what to expect ahead of time.
Decide what methods of communication you will use to let parents know where you are if you need to evacuate the facility. Where or how you get the information to parents will depend in part on the situation and why you have evacuated the facility, but some likely options include posting a message on the front door of the facility, recording a message on the facility's answering machine, posting a message on the organization's website, and sending an email or text message to all families. In some cases you may want to enlist the help of community-based organizations and other emergency responders to help disseminate information. For example, you might plan to have information posted at shelters run by the Red Cross or a local church.
Certain emergencies (e.g., earthquakes, severe weather) can cause local phone lines to be out of service. If your organization is at high risk for these types of emergencies, consider establishing an emergency number that is outside the geographic area likely to be impacted, for which parents can call to get information.
Staff members need to know what their roles and responsibilities are in an emergency so that they can carry out the necessary actions to protect the health and safety of the children the organization serves. It is recommended that staff members and regular volunteers be trained on emergency procedures prior to starting work and then review those procedures every six months.
It may also help to post emergency procedures in classrooms or other areas where children will be. These posters could include floor plans showing the location of emergency supplies, fire extinguishers, and exits. They could also include information about where to go if evacuation is required or other emergency procedures. Follow this link to see an example that you could adapt for your organization: http://www.childhealthonline.org/Disaster%20posters%20color.pdf.
It is important that the organization's emergency plan address the needs of staff members and their families. In an emergency, many staff may not show up or may need to leave to take care of their families. One way to avoid this is to develop plans with your staff to address any barriers to their participation in the organization's response. For example, your plan might encourage staff to bring their family members to the facility so they can fulfill both their professional and their family responsibilities. Talking with staff about these issues and working together to address them will improve your organization's ability to respond in a disaster.
Families need to know how the organization will respond to protect the health and safety of their children. They also need to know how they can support and facilitate an effective emergency response. For example, parents need to know how they will receive information about the situation and where to go to get their children. Providing this information ahead of time can make the process during an emergency much smoother.
Discuss emergency communication plans with all families served by your organization. Such plans should include information on where you plan to go in the case that you must evacuate the facility. They should also describe how you intend to contact family members with information about the situation and the process for releasing the children (e.g., who the child can be released to). It is important when developing communication plans to consider whether any of the individuals in the population you serve have special communication needs. For instance, if parents or family members are hearing-impaired, you may choose to use text messages or email rather than phone calls to share information.
Families should be given information about the emergency plan and the policies and procedures it includes. They should be kept informed of any changes. You should consider using a range of communication methods, including traditional and more novel methods, such as social media. Using multiple methods should increase the reach and effectiveness of your communication. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies has developed a brochure for parents outlining what they need to know about an organization's emergency plan.
Children should be encouraged to prepare and to practice emergency procedures so that they know what to expect during an emergency.
Talking about the bad things that could happen, what they can do to prepare, what your organization has done to prepare, and how you will be ready to deal with the unexpected will serve to create a culture of preparedness and lessen anxiety among the children. The extent and level of detail of this discussion will vary depending on the age group that your organization serves. For more information, read the RAND Corporation technical report, "Enhancing Public Health Emergency Preparedness for Special Needs Populations: A Toolkit for State and Local Planning and Response" (see Table 6.1, page 79). The key is to make the discussion fun and engaging for the child. You could consider doing skits, role playing, or using other techniques to get kids into the topic and make it a little more real.
There are a variety of resources available to help you talk to children about emergency preparedness. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has resources for parents and teachers as well as activities for children to do online. Similarly, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has a collection of resources for helping prepare children for disasters.