Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 9: Administration

9.2 Policies

9.2.4 Emergency/Security Policies and Plans Disaster Planning, Training, and Communication

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 02/27/2020.

Early care and education programs should develop written action plans to prepare for and respond to emergency or natural disaster situations. These written action plans should include preparation/response practices and procedures for hazards/disasters that could occur in any location, including acts of violence, biological or chemical terrorism, exposure to hazardous agents, facility damage, fire, missing child, power outage, and other situations that may require evacuation, relocation, lockdown, lockout, or shelter in place. All early care and education programs should have procedures in place to address natural disasters relevant to their location (eg, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, floods/flash floods, storms, volcanoes).


If a facility is unsure of what to do, the first point of contact in any situation should be the local public health authority.1 The local public health authority, in partnership with emergency personnel and other officials, will know how to engage the appropriate public health and other professionals for the situation.


Certain emergency/disaster situations may result in exceptions being made regarding state or local regulations (either in existing facilities or in temporary facilities). In these situations, facilities should make every effort to meet or exceed the temporary requirements.


Written Emergency/Disaster Action Plan

Facilities should develop and implement a written plan that describes the practices and procedures they will use to prepare for and respond to emergency or disaster situations. This emergency/disaster plan should include

  1. Information on disasters likely to occur in or near the facility, county, state, or region that require advance preparation and/or contingency planning
  2. Plans (and a timeline) to conduct regularly scheduled practice drills within the facility and in collaboration with community or other exercises
  3. Mechanisms for notifying and communicating with parents/guardians in various situations (eg, website postings; use of social media platforms; email notifications; recorded message on central telephone number, telephone calls, use of telephone tree, or cellular phone texts; posting of flyers at the facility and other community locations)
  4. Mechanisms for notifying and communicating with emergency management and public health officials (advance connections with these officials will be helpful to identify times when it would be important to notify others)
  5. Information on crisis management (decision-making and practices) related to sheltering in place; lockdown; relocating to another facility; evacuation procedures, including how nonmobile children and adults will be evacuated; safe transportation of children, including children with special health care needs; transporting necessary medical equipment; obtaining emergency medical care; and responding to an intruder or threatening individual
  6. Identification of primary and secondary meeting places and plans for reunification of parents/guardians with their children in the event of an evacuation
  7. Details on collaborative planning with other groups and representatives (eg, other early care and education facilities; schools; state child care licensing personnel; law enforcement and fire officials; emergency management personnel and first responders; pediatricians and other health professionals; public health agencies; clinics; hospitals; volunteer agencies, including Red Cross and other known groups likely to provide shelter and related services)
  8. Continuity of operations planning, including backing up or retrieving health and other key records/files and managing financial issues such as paying employees and bills during the aftermath of the disaster
  9. Contingency plans for various situations that address
    1. Emergency contact information and related procedures to maintain in contact with staff, families, community contacts, vendors, etc
    2. How the facility will care for children and account for them, until the parent/guardian or other authorized adult has been appropriately identified and has accepted responsibility for their care
    3. Acquiring, stockpiling, storing, and cycling provisions to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies that might be needed to care for children and staff for a minimum of 3 days and up to 7 days if sheltering in place is required or when removal to an alternate location is required
    4. Administering medicine and implementing other instructions as described in individual special care plans
    5. Procedures that might be implemented in the event of an infectious disease outbreak, epidemic, or other infectious disease emergency (eg, reviewing relevant immunization records, conducting daily health checks, keeping symptom records, implementing tracking procedures and corrective actions, modifying exclusion and isolation guidelines, coordinating with schools, reporting or responding to notices about public health emergencies)
    6. Procedures for staff to follow in the event that they are on a field trip or are in the midst of transporting children when an emergency or disaster situation arises
    7. Staff responsibilities and assignment of tasks (facilities should recognize that staff can and should be utilized to assist in facility preparedness and response efforts; however, they should not be hindered in addressing their own personal or family preparedness efforts, including evacuation)
    8. Actions to be followed when no authorized person arrives to pick up a child

Specific Written Emergency/Disaster Action Plans

The following are emergency/disaster action plans currently used in early care and education programs. Caregivers/teachers should be aware of the differences between each action plan and when to implement the appropriate actions.


An evacuation is carried out to move students and staff out of the building. These drills often accompany fire drills and require students and staff to leave and move to a nearby, predetermined location.2


An evacuation plan should include all the following components3:

  1. Information, diagrams, and/or maps on classroom and building locations, including locations of all exits, doors, and stairways
  2. Maps of evacuation routes in each classroom, including
    1. Primary and secondary evacuation routes
    2. Locations of the primary and secondary assembly areas
    3. Locations of fire alarm manual pull stations, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, sprinkler heads, and sprinkler control valves
  3. Directions for how staff will be notified and what they will do when they need to immediately evacuate the building and proceed to assembly areas (staff and children should be advised to evacuate as quickly and as safely as possible and should not attempt to secure or collect personal items during an evacuation, if it would compromise their safety or the safety of the children they care for)
  4. Recommendation that (when feasible) each classroom should take their portable first aid kit with emergency information, medications, and other documents
  5. Description of how staff will monitor/track children, including a requirement that attendance should be taken immediately before evacuating and once at the assembly area
  6. Steps to notify parents in an emergency


Shelter in Place

A shelter in place is carried out during severe weather and other environmental hazard/threat situations with the goal of keeping people safe while remaining indoors.2,4 Early care and education programs should have students, staff, and visitors take shelter in predetermined rooms with access to a telephone, stored disaster supplies, and, ideally, a bathroom. Facility and classroom doors should all remain shut and locked, depending on the situation.

A shelter-in-place plan should include all the following components5:


  1. Details on how to notify staff and children that a shelter-in-place drill (or another code word) is occurring, such as verbally announce “shelter-in-place” or other communication term.
  2. Recommendations for staff as to whether they should bring children inside or relocate to another nearby facility.
  3. Instructions to bring children and staff to the predetermined area(s) within the building/home.
    1. Depending on the nature of the emergency, when outside air quality is compromised, select interior room(s) without windows or vents that has adequate space to accommodate all children and staff.
    2. Close and lock all windows and doors.
    3. If necessary, staff should shut off the building’s heating systems, gas, air conditioners, and exhaust fans and switch valves to the closed position.
    4. If necessary, seal all cracks around the doors and any vents into the room with duct tape or plastic sheeting.
  4. Attendance should be taken to ensure everyone is present and accounted for in the area.
  5. No outside access is permitted, but early care and education programs may allow activities within the predetermined area to continue.
  6. Early care and education staff should follow established procedures for assisting children and/or staff with special health care needs. Bring medications, special health care plans, and assistive devices for communication and mobility.
  7. Early care and education staff should follow established procedures for addressing children’s (especially infants and toddlers) nutrition and hygiene needs.
  8. Provide developmentally appropriate activities (a list of ideas can be determined in advance and included in the written plan).
  9. Continue the shelter-in-place drill until the early care and education program director or designee announces the end of the drill.



A lockdown is used when there is a perceived threat/danger inside the building.2 A lockdown is carried out to secure all children and staff within their classrooms by locking the doors, directing people to hide or stay away from windows and doors, and sometimes asking people to remain calm and quiet. No children or staff members should be in the hallways during a lockdown. The plan should include protocols on when to unlock/open doors and should be developed in collaboration with local law enforcement officials.


A lockdown plan should include all the following components6:


  1. Notify children that a lockdown is occurring by verbally announce “lockdown” or other communication term.
  2. If children are outside, bring them inside.
  3. Instruct people to go to the nearest room or the designated location away from danger and bring first aid/disaster and emergency supply kits.
  4. Lock the classroom doors and windows, cover the windows, and turn off lights and audio equipment. Use tables, cabinets, or other heavy furniture to block doors/windows, if needed.
  5. Children should be asked to remain seated on the floor, away from doors and windows.
  6. Attendance should be taken to ensure all children are accounted for and remain inside the room.
  7. If relevant, instruct staff and children that everyone will ignore any fire alarm activation.
  8. Set cell phones to silent or vibrate.
  9. Activate the emergency communication/notification plan, contact outside staff and families, inform them of the situation, and explain that they cannot enter the building right now and if they are nearby, they may need to find a safe location.
  10. Staff should follow established procedures to remain calm and help children stay quiet. Examples include holding hands, gently rocking back and forth, using modified hand gestures that relate to a song without singing (eg, heads, shoulders, knees, and toes; eensy-weensy spider), making eye contact with each child, or offering pacifiers to infants.
  11. Staff should follow established procedures for assisting children and/or staff with special health care needs. Bring medications, care plans, and assistive devices for communication and mobility into the area where people are located.
  12. Staff should follow established procedures for addressing children’s (especially infants and toddlers) nutrition and hygiene needs.
  13. Remain in the room until the early care and education program director or designee announces the end of the lockdown.

Details in the emergency/disaster plans should be reviewed and updated biannually and immediately after any relevant event to incorporate any best practices or lessons learned into the document.

Facilities should identify which agency or agencies would be the primary contact for early care and education regulations, evacuation instructions, and other directives that might be communicated in various emergency or disaster situations.

Staff Support/Training

Staff should receive training on emergency/disaster planning and response. Training can be provided by individual groups or people such as emergency management agencies, educators, child care health consultants (CCHCs), health professionals, hospital or health care coalition personnel, law enforcement or fire officials, or emergency personnel qualified and experienced in disaster preparedness and response. Training could also be developed with a community team identified to assist the program with these efforts. The training should address

  1. Why it is important for early care and education programs to prepare for disasters and to have an emergency/disaster plan
  2. Different types of emergency and disaster situations and when and how they may occur
    1. Natural disasters
    2. Exposure to agents (ie, biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear, or explosive) that may be intentional (terrorism) or accidental
    3. Outbreaks, epidemics, or other infectious disease emergencies
  3. The special and unique needs of children at various ages and developmental stages and appropriate responses to children’s physical and emotional needs during and after the disaster, including information on consulting with pediatric disaster experts
  4. How to obtain support for staff members in coping/adjusting after a disaster/emergency
  5. Providing first aid and medications and accessing emergency health care in situations in which there are not enough available resources
  6. Contingency planning, including the ability to be flexible, to improvise, and to adapt to ever-changing situations
  7. Developing personal and family preparedness plans
  8. Strategies for supporting and communicating with families
  9. Floor plan/layout and appropriate safety considerations
  10. Location of emergency documents, supplies, medications, and equipment needed by children and staff with special health care needs
  11. Typical community, county, and state emergency procedures (including information on state disaster and pandemic influenza plans, emergency operation centers, and the incident command structure)
  12. Community resources for post-event support, such as agencies with mental health consultants, counselors, and safety consultants
  13. Which individuals or agency representatives have the authority to close early care and education programs and schools and when and why this might occur
  14. Insurance and liability issues
  15. New advances in technology, communication efforts, and disaster preparedness strategies customized to meet children’s needs

Facilities should determine how often they will conduct drills/tests, or “practice use” of an evacuation, shelter in place, or lockdown, as well as the communication options/planning mechanisms that are selected. These drills/tests should be held at least annually, but some could also be held on a biannual or quarterly basis. After an event or practice drill, the staff should meet to review what happened and identify any needed changes to the written plan or protocols.

Communicating With Parents/Guardians

Facilities should share detailed information about facility disaster planning and preparedness with parents/guardians when they enroll their children in the program, including

  1. Portions of the emergency/disaster plan relevant to parents/guardians or the public
  2. Procedures and instructions for what parents/guardians can expect if something happens at the facility
  3. Description of how parents/guardians will receive information and updates during or after a potential emergency or disaster situation
  4. Situations that might require parents/guardians to have a contingency plan regarding how their children will be cared for in the unlikely event of a facility closure

Recovery After a Disaster

In the recovery time frame after a disaster, early childhood professionals, early care and education health and safety experts, CCHCs, health care professionals, and researchers with expertise in child development or early care and education may be asked to support the development of or help to implement emergency, temporary, or respite child care. These individuals may also be asked to assist with caring for children in shelters or other temporary housing situations. Disaster recovery can take months or even years, so it is wise to plan for how the program will address any ongoing support needs of the children, families, and staff in these situations. Refer to Standard Environmental Audit of Site Location for more information on assessing building safety following a disaster.


The only way to prepare for disasters is to consider various worst case or unique scenarios and to develop contingency plans. By brainstorming and thinking through a variety of what-if situations and developing records, protocols/procedures, and checklists (and testing/practicing these), facilities will be better able to respond to an unusual emergency or disaster situation.


Providing clear, accurate, and helpful information to parents/guardians as soon as possible is crucial. Sharing written policies with parents/guardians when they enroll their child, informing them of routine practices, and letting them know how they will receive information and updates, on a daily basis as well as during a disaster or emergency, will help them understand what to expect. Notifying parents/guardians about emergencies or disaster situations without causing alarm or prompting inappropriate action is challenging. The content of such communications will depend on the situation. Sometimes, it will be necessary to provide information to parents/guardians while a situation is evolving and before all details are known. In a serious situation, the federal government, the governor, or the state or county health official may announce or declare a state of emergency, a public health emergency, or a disaster.

Ignoring fire alarm activation during a lockdown or lockdown drill is used to protect children from an intruder either in or outside of the building, as the fire alarm could trigger everyone to leave the building, which would perhaps put them in the path of the intruder. Explaining this up front will help adults and children comply with this approach in an emergency.

Identifying and connecting with the appropriate key contact(s) before a disaster strikes is crucial for many reasons but particularly because the identified official may not know how to contact or connect with individual early care and education programs. In addition, representatives within the local school system (especially school administrators and school nurses) may have effective and more direct connections to the state emergency management or disaster preparedness and response system. If early care and education programs do not typically communicate with the schools in their area on a regular basis, staff can consider establishing a direct link to and partnership with school representatives already involved in disaster planning and response efforts.

Early care and education programs, as well as pediatricians, are rarely considered or included in disaster planning or preparedness efforts; unfortunately, the needs of children are, therefore, often overlooked. Children have important physical, physiological, developmental, and psychological differences from adults that can and must be anticipated in disaster planning, response, and recovery processes. Including considerations for children in state plans is a requirement beginning to be implemented in 2019. Caregivers/teachers, pediatricians, health care professionals, and child advocates can prepare to assume a primary mission of advocating for children before, during, and after a disaster.7


Disaster planning and response protocols are unique and typically customized to the type of emergency or disaster; geographical area; identified needs and available resources; applicable federal, state, and local regulations; and the incident command structure in place at the time. The US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operate under a set of principles and authorities described in various laws and the National Planning Frameworks ( Each state is required to maintain a state disaster preparedness plan and a separate plan for responding to a pandemic influenza. These plans may be developed by separate agencies, and the point person or the key contact for an early care and education program can be the state emergency coordinator, a representative in the state department of health, an individual associated with the agency that licenses child care facilities for that state, or another official. The state child care administrator is a key contact for any facility that receives federal support.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Plan ahead for disasters. Accessed August 21, 2019

US Office of Human Services, Emergency Preparedness and Response. Accessed August 21, 2019

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Preparedness and Response. Ready Wrigley. Reviewed October 15, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2019
Center, Early Head Start, Early Head Start, Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Medical Emergency Procedures Use of Fire Extinguishers Response to Fire and Burns Death Supply of Food and Water for Disasters Assessment of the Environment at the Site Location First Aid and Emergency Supplies Written Plan for Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza Policy on Actions to Be Followed When No Authorized Person Arrives to Pick Up a Child
Appendix NN: First Aid and Emergency Supply Lists
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. PedFACTs: Pediatric First Aid for Caregivers and Teachers. 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2014

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. School safety during emergencies: what parents need to know. website. Updated June 7, 2015. Accessed August 21, 2019

  3. US General Services Administration. Sample child care evacuation plan. Reviewed October 11, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2019

  4. 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 August 21, 2019

  5. University of California San Francisco California Childcare Health Program. Sample announced shelter-in-place drill. Published 2016. Accessed August 21, 2019

  6. University of California San Francisco California Childcare Health Program. Sample announced lockdown drill. Published 2016. Accessed August 21, 2019

  7. Quinn M, Gillooly D, Kelly S, Kolassa J, Davis E, Jankowski S. Evaluation of identified stressors in children and adolescents after Super Storm Sandy. Pediatr Nurs. 2016;42(5):235–241


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 02/27/2020.