Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.1 Overall Requirements

5.1.4 Exits Alternate Exits and Emergency Shelter

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/21/2019.

Each building or structure, new or old, should have a minimum of 2 exits, at different sides of the building or home, leading to an open space at ground level.

If the basement in a small family child care home is being used, one exit should lead directly to the outside. Exits should be unobstructed, easily accessed by adults, yet inaccessible to children, allowing occupants to escape to an outside door or exit stair enclosure in case of a fire or other emergency. Using an outdoor playground as a safe place to exit may not always be possible. If an alternative or emergency exit leads to an enclosed outdoor play area, fences, barriers, and all latches or other closing mechanisms should be easily accessible by adults yet inaccessible to children. Some child care facilities do not have a playground located adjacent to the child care building and use local parks as the playground site. Access to these parks may require crossing a street at an intersection with a crosswalk. This would normally be considered safe, especially in areas of low traffic; however, when sirens go off, a route that otherwise may be considered safe becomes chaotic and dangerous.

Each floor above or below ground level used for child care should have at least 2 unobstructed exits that lead to an open area at ground level and, thereafter, to an area that meets safety requirements for a child care indoor or outdoor area.

In the event of a fire, chemical release, or gas leak, staff members and children should be able to get at least 50 feet away from the building or structure. If the children cannot return to their usual building, a suitable shelter containing all items necessary for child care should be available where the children can be protected from the elements (eg, weather, extreme conditions) and safely remain until their parents/guardians arrive.

An evacuation plan should take into consideration all available open areas to which staff and children can safely retreat in an emergency.1 Cribs designed to be used as evacuation cribs can be used to evacuate infants and/or children with special health care needs or disabilities, if rolling is possible on the evacuation route(s).2 Refer to Standard for more information about crib/wheelchair use and proper evacuation in early care and education programs.

During evacuation or an emergency, children, as well as staff, become excited and may run into the street when the playground is not fenced or immediately adjacent to the center.1 Planning should also consider that severe weather or extreme conditions (hot or cold) might require that children be quickly relocated into a facility that protects them from the elements.

Entrance and exit routes should be reviewed and approved by the applicable fire inspector. Exiting should meet all the requirements of the current edition of the NFPA 101: Life Safety Code from the National Fire Protection Association.1


Unobstructed exit routes are essential to protect children and staff during prompt evacuation. The purpose of having 2 ways to exit when child care is provided on a floor above or below ground level is to ensure an alternative exit exists if fire blocks one exit.1  Some authorities will permit a fenced area with sufficient accumulation space at least 50 feet from the building to serve in lieu of a gated opening.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Playing Outdoors Evacuation of Children with Special Health Care Needs and Children with Disabilities Labeled Emergency Exits Access to and Awareness of Exits Enclosures for Outdoor Play Areas
  1. National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. Accessed December 20, 2018

  2. National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness, US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Head Start. Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs. Accessed December 20, 2018


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/21/2019.