Labor day weekend started off with a bang . . . or maybe thunderclap, and lots and lots of water. Hurricane Hermine decided to relay a message to the good people of the Sunshine State: Mother Nature Ain’t No Joke. Just like any other mother, she will find a way to teach her babies a lesson in being prepared. For those of us who thought it was a game, laughing at how the schools were closed on Thursday, while the sun was shining high in the sky. The laughter was silenced around one o’clock in the afternoon when there was seriously no sunshine in the Sunshine State. The clouds went from a bright white, to a dingy grey, to almost dark. The sky opened and in my mind I could easily picture that army of giants from the movie, Jack The Giant Slayer, looking down from beyond the clouds, pouring water down on us ant-like humans from some giant-sized cauldrons, being amused at our attempts to take cover. What a way to kick off National Preparedness Month, huh?!
That’s right September is National Preparedness Month, and for us Floridians, especially those of us who are licensed early childhood professionals, being prepared should be second nature. For child care facilities, “The operator shall develop a written emergency preparedness plan to include, at a minimum, procedures to be taken by the facility during a fire, lockdown and inclement weather (for example: hurricanes, tropical storms, or tornadoes), and to facilitate parent/guardian reunification. The plan shall describe how the facility will meet the needs of all children, including children with special needs, during and following an emergency event . . . Emergency preparedness drills shall be conducted when children are in care. Each drill, outlined in the emergency preparedness plan must be practiced a minimum of one time per year, and may substitute for up to three monthly fire drills as referenced in paragraph 65C-22.002(7)(e), F.A.C., documentation of which must be maintained for one year. A current attendance record must accompany staff during the drill or actual emergency and must be used to account for all children.” 65C-22.002(7)(h)(i),F.A.C.
For providers in family day care and large family child care homes, “The operator shall develop a written emergency preparedness plan to include, at a minimum, procedures to be taken by the family day care home during a fire, lockdown, and inclement weather (tornadoes). Emergency preparedness drills shall be conducted when children are in care. Each drill, excluding the fire drills, outlined in the emergency preparedness plan must be practiced a minimum of one time per year, documentation of which must be maintained for one year. A current attendance record must accompany staff during the drill or actual emergency and must be used to account for all children.” 65C-20.010(3)(b)5,6,F.A.C. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that you all are familiar with the standards, but I don’t know, blame it on the former licensing counselor in me. I made a point of siting standards to be clear that providers understood their strengths in areas, as well as, any possible opportunities for improvement. And, well, you know, once you get into the habit of doing things . . . yeah, like I said – second nature.
Here’s the thing, we as adults have the drills and preparedness down pat and we’ve practiced enough to have the children in our care to know what to do during the drills and in case of actual emergency, but are we just doing drills or actually involving them in the process enough so that they truly understand? What about family involvement? You might want to consider National Preparedness Month as one of the topics discussed at your September Family Night. (If you don’t have a monthly family night, I’d recommend it as a way to encourage family involvement to hopefully ensure that the knowledge and skills that are taught while in your care is carried over to the home. It’s also helpful when it comes to effective communication, because let’s face it, it’s easier to talk to someone whom you’ve established a relationship with versus someone whom you say a few words to in passing). Here are some resources to truly bring home the seriousness of being prepared to those little ones who will eagerly soak it all up.
The website, Ready.gov has weekly themes focusing on preparedness when it comes to the individual, family and friends, and the community. Going beyond preparedness for natural disasters, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has materials for educators and families addressing terrorism and mass violence, as well. Finally, the website for The American Academy of Pediatrics has links to activities and materials that you can utilize. These materials include a link to a cute song and dance called the Save the Children Prep Step.
There’s nothing like a clear understanding, no matter the age. Engaging the children in your care in activities beyond the usual emergency preparedness drills will help to ensure that they are truly prepared. As the theme of the 13th Annual National Preparedness Month states: “Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today”.