Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 9: Administration

9.2 Policies

9.2.4 Emergency/Security Policies and Plans Emergency and Evacuation Drills Policy

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 03/22/2022.

Early care and education programs should have a written policy listing the drills they’ll practice in case of natural disasters, and emergencies caused by people. Programs should practice drills that are relevant to their local region or based on recently reported emergencies. The drills should prepare staff and children to respond appropriately to:1–4

  • Evacuation emergencies: a perceived or real hazard or threat (e.g., bomb threat, fire, flood, gas leak, chemical spill) requires leaving the building or area
  • Shelter-in-place emergencies: a perceived or real hazard or threat  (e.g., tornado, earthquake) requires finding a safe place to stay temporarily
  • Lockdown emergencies: a perceived or real hazard or threat in the building (e.g., violent or hostile intruder) requires being locked inside classrooms
  • Lockout emergencies: a perceived or real hazard or threat outside the building (e.g., dangerous person reported in the area; threatening animals) requires children and staff who are outside to be brought inside (which is known as a reverse evacuation) and the building to be secured

Teachers and staff should practice these plans and drills on a set schedule. Programs should not include children in drills that are very intense or frightening, such as those acting out injuries or an intrusion. To develop their policies, programs should follow local and state licensing regulations for drills. Programs also should ask experts in the community about preparing for emergencies (e.g., how to plan drills). These experts include fire officials, law enforcement officials, emergency response personnel, health care providers, and infant and early childhood mental health and child care health consultants.

The written policy should include:

  • The types of emergencies the program is likely to have and suitable drills for each emergency (including instructions for that type of drill)
  • How often to practice these drills
    • Drills are a priority and should be practiced often.
  • Limiting children to drills they are developmentally ready for (e.g., excluding them from very intense drills that realistically simulate hostile or harmful events)
  • Including children with special health care needs and disabilities in drills to determine if accommodations are needed
    • Each child’s individual health plan, medications, and equipment should be evacuated with them.
  • The importance of practicing drills at different times, including nap time and during different activities, and from all exits
  • Using the daily roster during the drill to account for all children. Refer to Standard Use of Daily Roster During Evacuation Drills.
    • Plans for moving children, including infants and children with special health care needs or disabilities, from areas of potential danger5
  • How to notify staff, children, and families before a drill6
  • Importance of:
    • The staff being alert to signs of psychological distress in children during and after drills
    • The staff modeling calm behavior during drills
    • Children learning safety skills (e.g., how to stay quiet and how to follow instructions)
  • Documenting all drill practices, as described in Standard Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place Drill Record 

Written policies that require practicing routine drills will help early care and education programs respond well to natural disasters or events caused by people, and remain safe.7 Some drills for emergencies caused by natural disasters (e.g., coastal flooding, wildfires) may need more frequent practice. Also, the turnover of staff and children, and children’s changing developmental abilities, require scheduling regular drills. When conducted with care and notice, drills increase skills and minimize unnecessary, but significant, distress and psychological harm.1 For example, it is not appropriate to include children in very intense drills, such as drills with:

  • An injured adult
  • A shooter and real weapons
  • Simulated gunfire, or blanks
  • Realistic images of wounds or injuries
  • Aggressive re-enactments; or other simulations of attacks1,6

However, it may be appropriate for only staff to participate in these types of drills.8

In developing written policies and plans, it is important to get help from first responders, and local fire and police departments. These public safety experts not only advise programs, but they can observe drills. Plans will be different depending on the emergency (i.e., natural and environmental disasters, shooters, chemical exposures, etc.) and can include locking doors, turning off lights, keeping quiet, turning off ventilation systems, gathering in rooms that are windowless or in the basement, etc.

Emergency personnel also get to know the program and its plans in case they must respond to the site. Fire department officials and inspectors may advise, improve, and certify a safe evacuation plan, including routes, specific number of minutes, and other procedures. For example, in family child care homes, the infant rooms or napping areas might be on levels other than the main level. This makes it especially important that the fire inspector or fire department representative approve (in writing) the program’s evacuation plan.

Health and mental health professionals can help staff remain calm during drills. They also may help staff prepare for and lessen psychological effects, encourage children and families to be prepared and resilient, and ensure that children’s needs (including infant, mobility, and special health care needs) are addressed.9 Advice from these professionals can make sure accommodations are based on children’s unique vulnerabilities and the program’s environment and layout.1 For example, they may advise programs to use wheeled cribs or other equipment to evacuate infants, children who are immobile, and other children with special health care needs or disabilities, if rolling is possible on the evacuation route(s).6


California Childcare Health Program, Sample Emergency Disaster Drills

National Association of School Psychologists. National Association of School Resource Officers.

Best Practice Considerations for Armed Assailant Drills

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Cribs Written Plan and Training for Handling Urgent Medical or Threatening Incidents Disaster Planning, Training, and Communication Use of Daily Roster During Evacuation Drills Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place Drill Record
  1. Schonfeld DJ, Hashikawa AN, Melzer-Lange M, Gorski PA; AAP Council on Children and Disasters; Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention; Council on School Health. Participation of children and adolescents in live crisis drills and exercises. Pediatrics. 2020;146(3):e2020015503

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. School Safety During an Emergency or Crisis: What Parents Need to Know. Web site. Updated April 2021. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  3. North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. Lockdown Drills. Web site. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  4. Department of Homeland Security. Planning Considerations: Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place Guidance for State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Partners. Published July 2019. Web site. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  5. U.S. General Services Administration. Sample Child Care Evacuation Plan. Reviewed October 11, 2018. Web site. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  6. Schonfeld DJ, Rossen E, Woodard D. Deception in schools — when crisis preparedness efforts go too far. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(11):1033–1034.

  7. State Capacity Building Center, Office of Child Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery: Hostile Intruders. How Do States and Territories Plan For and Respond to Hostile Intruder Incidents? Web site. Published September 2017. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  8. National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Head Start. Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs. 2020 Edition. Web site. Accessed February 15, 2022. 

  9. Needle S, Wright J, Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council, Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Ensuring the health of children in disasters. Pediatrics. 2015;136(5).


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 03/22/2022.