Emergency preparedness involves not only the actual response to an emergency, but the continuous process of preparation, drilling and revamping. This process is an ongoing cycle involving four major areas. Each area informs the others. The reality is that there may be activities associated with one area taking place concurrently with activities associated with other areas. Hence, there is no clear delineation between each area of the cycle. Rather, they are interconnected, continuous and fluid.
Mitigation and Prevention
Mitigation and prevention include actions to eliminate or mitigate hazards and their impacts when an emergency occurs. This is an ongoing process. It does require frequent monitoring and revision. Any school emergency management plan should include actions that need to be taken on an ongoing basis. This ensures that safety is at the forefront of the staff’s mind. It also ensures that emergency supplies are kept in sufficient numbers. Schools should identify possible threats and hazards, assess the risk and vulnerabilities posed by those threats and hazards and then compare and prioritize them. This will be explored further in the Vulnerability Assessment Unit later in this course. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in its publication, Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, page 36, has identified four categories of hazards including biological, natural, technological and human-caused events. The descriptions below are adapted from this publication.
Planning and Preparedness
Preparedness and planning involves advanced measures to ensure that processes and protocols are in place; staff and administration are ready to respond during an emergency; and constituents understand how the facility will handle and respond to emergencies. It is critical to analyze the risks, vulnerabilities and hazards that can impact a childcare center. Once these are identified, the facility must develop a detailed plan to mitigate the negative impacts. All planning, including the response to identified risks and hazards as well as the emergency action plan must involve working with representatives from all constituency groups. It will be of particular importance to work collaboratively with the local first responders. Furthermore, it should be a common practice to conduct annual or semi-annual drills in conjunction with these first responders. Training and organizing staff and volunteers is critical.
When developing these plans, childcare centers must take into account their specific facility layout; proximity to local first responders; resources available to them; and specific skill sets and experiences of the staff. Schools in urban and rural settings, for example, will have quite different contexts within which they develop their plans. The distances that separate rural schools from student homes, other schools, and from first responders must be considered. Emergency preparedness involves establishing authority and responsibility for emergency actions and securing the resources to support them. A childcare center must make an investment in emergency management. This requires upkeep: the staff must receive training; the staff absolutely must practice and drill and these drills must include the student population when appropriate; the facilities and emergency equipment must be maintained and be in working order; a positive engaging working relationship with local first responders must be established and maintained. To ensure that the childcare center’s investment in emergency management resources can be relied upon when needed, there must be a program and schedule of tests, drills, and exercises.
The figure below has been adapted from Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans, CPG 101, FEMA, 2010. It illustrates how planning for emergency response is cyclical and evolving over time and in response to new information. The importance of each aspect of the cycle cannot be overstated.
When an emergency occurs, everybody should know their role and know the plan of action. Response involves activation and implementation of Emergency Action Plan (EAP). It includes the following actions: Assess the situation’s scale, severity, and required resources. Established command takes control. This will be the childcare Center’s director or staff assuming this role if the director is not present.
Determine and activate appropriate emergency response.
Activate the EAP.
Execute the plan. Coordinate and collaborate with the first responders.
Manage the incident. There should be a focus on student and staff safety/comfort, deploy human and other resources, manage student release if deemed appropriate to do so.
Review critical incident response and consider what worked and areas for improvement.
A return to normalcy is vital. And, it promotes and encourages the re-establishment of routine (e.g. families taking children to school, going to work etc.). The importance of childcare center having a recovery plan in place cannot be overstated.