Do you know what ICE is? I’m not talking about what you put in your drink to keep it cool. ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. I have several contacts in my cell phone, namely my husband, my sister and my father, who are designated as ICE contacts if something were ever to happen to me. Emergencies aren’t the most pleasant things to think about, but are necessary to prepare for in our child care programs. Everyone involved in the program, from staff to children to parents, should be aware of the emergency systems and procedures in the program.
Common emergency preparedness practices are fire and tornado drills. Thinking about the fire drills, when does your program do them? Do you ever do them at nap time? Do you make sure to plan some when the school-aged children will be there? For tornados, I see many programs that do the drills seasonally, which according to the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness is April through July. However, this past October my coworkers and I were directed into the bathrooms of our building because of a tornado warning. Tornadoes can happen any time. I feel for the child who joins a program in September and doesn’t know what to do in a tornado for six months.
Another aspect of emergency preparedness is a lockdown procedure. What system do you have in place for potentially dangerous situations on or near the property? How effective is it in practice? I was a teacher at a school where my classroom was in a separate building from the main building. Their lockdown procedure involved sending an email out to all the teachers and the secretary came around personally to each classroom. One day, the secretary came to my classroom and informed me that the lockdown was over. I didn’t even know we were on lockdown! A high-speed police chase was happening nearby and they sent the lockdown email. Well, I was teaching my 25 second-grade children and didn’t have access to my email messages. By the time the secretary made it to my classroom, the threat had passed. This lockdown procedure was not effective in practice.
A final point of emergency preparedness is having emergency contacts for the children, whether that is a parent or guardian. How often do you ask parents for their contact information? If a child were to get sick or hurt, the program should be able to contact the parent immediately. If the number given on the enrollment form is not current at the time of the emergency, and the program isn’t aware of it, this creates a problem. Also, if changes in the program were to occur, such as closing for hazardous weather conditions or a field trip is canceled, the parent should be notified. Do you have a procedure in place to make that contact?
I hope this has given you the opportunity to reflect on your program’s emergency preparedness. Emergencies are scary. They can happen when you least expect them, and sometimes are unnerving to the most experienced of professionals. Being prepared with systems that have been carefully thought out, practiced and reviewed for effectiveness helps ease what may be very tense situations.