Caring for Our Childen (CFOC)

Chapter 9: Administration

9.2 Policies

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

Facilities should consider how to prepare for and respond to emergency or natural disaster situations and develop written plans accordingly. All programs should have procedures in place to address natural disasters that are relevant to their location (such as earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis or flash floods, storms, and volcanoes) and all hazards/disasters that could occur in any location including acts of violence, bioterrorism/terrorism, exposure to hazardous agents, facility damage, fire, missing child, power outage, and other situations that may require evacuation, lock-down, or shelter-in-place.

Written Emergency/Disaster Plan:

Facilities should develop and implement a written plan that describes the practices and procedures they 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 schedule) 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 (e.g., Website postings; email notification; central telephone number, answering machine, or answering service messaging; telephone calls, use of telephone tree, or cellular phone texts; and/or posting of flyers at the facility and other community locations);
  4. Mechanisms for notifying and communicating with emergency management public officials;
  5. Information on crisis management (decision-making and practices) related to sheltering in place, relocating to another facility, evacuation procedures including how non-mobile 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, responding to an intruder, etc.;
  6. Identification of primary and secondary meeting places and plans for reunification of parents/guardians with their children;
  7. Details on collaborative planning with other groups and representatives (such as emergency management agencies, other child care facilities, schools, emergency personnel and first responders, pediatricians/health professionals, public health agencies, clinics, hospitals, and 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 procedures;
    2. How the facility will care for children and account for them, until the parent/guardian has accepted responsibility for their care;
    3. Acquiring, stockpiling, storing, and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies that might be needed to care for children and staff for up to one week if shelter-in-place is required and 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 outbreak, epidemic, or other infectious disease emergency (e.g., reviewing relevant immunization records, 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).

Details in the Emergency/Disaster Plan should be reviewed and updated bi-annually and immediately after any relevant event to incorporate any best practices or lessons learned into the document.

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


Staff should receive training on emergency/disaster planning and response. Training should be provided by emergency management agencies, educators, child care health consultants, health professionals, or emergency personnel qualified and experienced in disaster preparedness and response. The training should address:

  1. Why it is important for child care facilities 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. Terrorism (i.e., biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear);
    3. Outbreaks, epidemics, or other infectious disease emergencies;
  3. The special and unique needs of children, appropriate response to children’s physical and emotional needs during and after the disaster, including information on consulting with pediatric disaster experts;
  4. Providing first aid, medications, and accessing emergency health care in situations where there are not enough available resources;
  5. Contingency planning including the ability to be flexible, to improvise, and to adapt to ever-changing situations;
  6. Developing personal and family preparedness plans;
  7. Supporting and communicating with families;
  8. Floor plan safety and layout;
  9. Location of emergency documents, supplies, medications, and equipment needed by children and staff with special health care needs;
  10. Typical community, county, and state emergency procedures (including information on state disaster and pandemic influenza plans, emergency operation centers, and incident command structure);
  11. Community resources for post-event support such as mental health consultants, safety consultants;
  12. Which individuals or agency representatives have the authority to close child care programs and schools and when and why this might occur;
  13. Insurance and liability issues;
  14. New advances in technology, communication efforts, and disaster preparedness strategies customized to meet children’s needs.

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.

Facilities should conduct an annual drill, test, or “practice use” of the communication options/mechanisms that are selected.

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, 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, 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 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. If a facility is unsure of what to do, the first point of contact in any situation should be the local health authority. The local 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.

Disaster planning and response protocols are unique, and they are 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 U.S. 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 Response Framework (see for details). 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 a child care facility 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.

To develop an Emergency/Disaster Plan that is effective and in compliance with state requirements, the facility must identify who their key contact would be (and what the requirements for their program might be in an emergency or disaster situation) in advance of an unexpected situation. Identifying and connecting with the appropriate key contact 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 child care facilities. In addition, representatives within the local school system (especially school administrators and school nurses) may have effective and more direct connections to the state disaster preparedness and response system. If facilities do not communicate with the schools in their area on a regular basis, staff should consider establishing a direct link to and partnership with school representatives already involved in disaster planning and response efforts.

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.

Early childhood professionals, child care health and safety experts, child care health consultants, health care professionals, and researchers with expertise in child development or child care 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. A “shelter-in-place” refers to “the process of staying where you are and taking shelter, rather than trying to evacuate” (2).

Early education and child care facilities and pediatricians are rarely considered or included in disaster planning or preparedness efforts, and unfortunately the needs of children are often overlooked. Children have important physical, physiological, developmental, and psychological differences from adults that can and must be anticipated in the disaster planning process. Staff, pediatricians, health care professionals, and child advocates can and should prepare to assume a primary mission of advocating for children before, during, and after a disaster (1). These professionals should be open to fulfilling this obligation in whatever manner presents, in whatever capacity is required at the moment.

For additional resources on disaster planning for child care and early education programs, see the following Websites: (American Academy of Pediatrics); (National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies); (National Child Care Information Center); (Healthy Child Care Pennsylvania).

A good source on business continuity or operations planning is

Center, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Medical Emergency Procedures Use of Fire Extinguishers Response to Fire and Burns Supply of Food and Water for Disasters Written Plan for Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Task Force on Terrorism. 2006. Policy statement: The pediatrician and disaster preparedness. Pediatrics 117:560-65.
  2. National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral and Save the Children, Domestic Emergencies Unit. 2010. Protecting children in child care during emergencies. Report-SAVE_MECH.pdf.