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Understanding the Emergency Plan at Your Child's School or Child Care Facility


Putting together an emergency plan is key to keeping your family safe in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis. If your children are in school or attends a child care center, you’ll want to understand their emergency procedures as you put together your own emergency plan. In many areas, schools and child care facilities are required by law to have emergency plans. If your child’s school or child care facility doesn’t have one, you might consider volunteering to help create one.

What you should expect from a school or child care emergency plan

Schools and child care facilities often write their emergency plans based on state or local regulations. However, each school's plan will be different depending on the type of emergencies likely to occur in the area and the building they are housed in. Begin by checking the school's website for information on their emergency plan. If your child attends a Department of Defense (DoD) school, visit the DoD Education Activity Emergency Preparedness site.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your child's school or child care facility about their emergency plan:

  • Do you have an emergency plan? If so, ask for a copy.
  • How do you communicate with parents in a crisis? Many schools have automated calling systems that keep parents updated in an emergency. Be sure the school or child care facility has your correct home and cell phone numbers.
  • What is the procedure for picking up children in an emergency?
  • Do you have a plan to "shelter-in-place?" If an emergency prevents staff and children from leaving the school or child care facility, ask if the facility has enough food and water for everyone.
  • If the children need to be evacuated, where will they go? Does the facility have a plan for transporting the children to a shelter? What are the procedures for picking up children evacuated to a shelter?
  • Does the facility have a lockdown procedure? This often means that even parents are not allowed into the school. While this may be frustrating if you want to remove your child from school, keep in mind that the measure is designed to protect students. If your school has a lockdown procedure, be sure you understand how the school will communicate information to parents.
  • What media outlets will have information in an emergency? These can include local radio stations, television stations, and websites.
  • What plans are in place for natural disasters specific to your area? If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, for example, you'll want to know about school closing procedures.

Helping create an emergency plan for a school or child care facility

Most schools and child care facilities are required to have an emergency plan, either by law or by school district rules. Schools generally work with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff and local law enforcement to create their emergency plans. If your child's school or child care facility does not have a plan, you may want to help them put one together. The following resources may be helpful:

  • FEMA - FEMA's disaster preparedness site for businesses, Ready.gov, has information for creating an emergency plan for a child care facility or school. You'll also find a training program called Multi-Hazard Planning for Schools on FEMA's training website.
  • North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education Emergency Preparedness website has useful information and resources to help child care providers in any state create an emergency plan.

Other ways to keep your family safe during an emergency

Even with an emergency plan in place at your child's school or child care facility, you'll want to be sure your family has their own emergency plan. These tips will help your children be prepared when they are in school or child care:

  • Make sure everyone knows family cell phone numbers. Program the numbers into children's phones. But explain that cell phone calls may not go through in an emergency when lines are busy and they may need to send text messages. If you have younger children, write your phone numbers on a card and put the card in your child's backpack. Make sure your child knows where to find the phone numbers.
  • If you live on a military installation, check with the housing office or the installation's Emergency Preparedness Officer for information on an emergency warning system and evacuation procedures.
  • Learn about your community's warning signals. Some communities have sirens, while others alert residents through phone calls and text messages. You may want to sign up for weather alerts at the National Weather Service or at one of several commercial weather websites.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your family's emergency contact. It's often easier to call long distance in an emergency. You and your family can check in with this person and communicate where you are.
  • Choose emergency meeting places. You'll need one place near your home to use in an emergency, such as a fire, and a second place outside your neighborhood in case your family can't get back home.

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