If you sit down to contemplate the weight of leading a center of children and staff, it can be overwhelming; especially if you start thinking about emergency preparedness. When I was a Preschool and After-School Director, I used to hope and pray that when the volcano erupted (up here in the North West) or earthquake commenced, that school would not be in session. I quickly realized that I needed to be prepared rather than wish the possibility of disaster away. Although our school had policies and practices in place, there were several areas that were not up to par.
When I first began to tackle preparedness, I decided I would focus on a few critical things: Emergency Backpacks, Teacher Notebooks, and 24-hour kits. This was my way of getting started with a few of the important items, rather than being overwhelmed by endless possibilities.
An emergency backpack is the number one item on my list of importance. If you don’t have one yet, this is a great time to start. First, we used red backpacks, since red is typically used as an emergency color. These backpacks are filled with items teachers would need in case of a disaster. In our school, we required teachers to carry the backpacks whenever they left the classroom as a group. Teachers found them very helpful when out on the playground, nature walks, and especially field trips.
Although you can easily get bogged down and put just about anything in an emergency backpack, here is what I would suggest:
- Emergency Kit
- Water Bottle
- Teacher Notebook (see details below)
- Ice Packs- we recommend these ones on Amazon. They work great for the playground and save time running to the freezer inside the kitchen.
- Coloring books or a game (keep the children entertained if needed, check out our favorites on Pinterest)
- Epi-pens or emergency medications for the children (according to your school’s policies)
- Snack Items (pack of crackers, granola bars or fruit snacks work well – watch out for allergies)
As you can tell, the Emergency Backpacks can be basic or complex depending on your needs. Make sure you create one per classroom and encourage your teachers to get into the habit of carrying them around!
Teacher Notebook-Reports and Forms
Although most of your reports can be stored safely online, if you are using an online child care software like Sandbox, I recommend keeping paper backup copies of a few forms. In an emergency, you may want access to child information that’s not web-based.
Here is what I suggest keeping in teacher notebooks:
- Child Allergy List
- Emergency Card for each child
- Parent List (including phone number and work information)
- Staff Emergency Cards
- Weekly Attendance Sheet
- Emergency Phone List
Once you have created your Teacher Notebook (again, one for each class), then I would recommend storing them in your Emergency Backpacks. If your school is like most, you are enrolling children throughout the year. Make it a habit for your administrative team to print off new forms once a month to make sure all of your information is up to date. This should only take a few minutes if you have access to reports in your child care software system. Sandbox has all the reports listed above which makes it convenient to print them off.
A 24-hour kit is a great way to get families involved with emergency preparedness at your school. This is a kit with things like food, water, and entertainment for each child in the center. Parents create their own kits, one per child. We suggest requiring them to be turned in to their classroom teacher on their first day of school. These kits are stored in classrooms, allowing easy access.
Here is what I suggest for your 24hr kit (this is based on Washington state licensing regulations. Your state or providence may vary):
- 1 Emergency “space” blanket (small rectangular package; available at outdoor retailers)
- 1 Emergency light stick (available at outdoor retailers or hardware store)
- 1 Family Photo
- 2-3 Granola or energy bars (foil wrapped)
- 1 Hand wipes (small bag)
- 1 Juice box
- 1 Kleenex (small package)
- 1 Letter or note of support written to your child, with emergency
- Contact telephone numbers
- 1 Stuffed animal or cuddle toy (very small)
- 1 Water bottle
Tips about 24hr kits: Don’t let parents bring in a box filled with items, limit them to a gallon Zip Lock bag. Storage in the child care world can be limited, so let’s set a standard for them and stick to it.
Once you have completed these three items, you will have a great start toward emergency preparedness in your center. Don’t forget there may be many other areas to prepare in as well given your local conditions or risks. Once you are ready, address the following: evacuation routes (you should be practicing these regularly), disaster policies, and food storage. Don’t forget to check with your local authorities to learn more about the mandated safety items in place for child care centers.
At the end of the day, all we can do it try our very best to be prepared. If you are just getting started in emergency preparedness at your school, start with completing the items above. This will allow you to rest assured knowing that you have begun the process and are no longer wishing away an event like I was!