Child Care Center Disaster Response Handbook



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Coordinating a Response

The initial steps you take in responding to an emergency or disaster may be unique to that event. (Please see “Steps to Take during a Disaster” section for detailed information on specific emergencies/disasters). Most situations, however, require action in some predictable areas. Everyone must always be accounted for and ongoing safety must be ensured. Child release, or reunification, has to be set up. In the hours and days following an event, basic needs continue to have to be met. The way you meet the everyday needs of hydration, nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and emotional support, however, may be different from the way you do it on a daily basis. It is useful to plan who takes care of which responsibilities in advance. Circumstances may differ, but your response will go more smoothly – and less will be forgotten – if you put some systems in place now.


Incident Command System


One way of organizing your response is the Incident Command System. The Incident Command System (ICS) provides structure for managing a disaster or emergency and can be adapted for virtually any situation and any staff level. When you are using ICS effectively, everyone knows who’s responsible for what. Don’t be put off by the name; it’s a great tool and easy to learn.
An ICS chart that lays out job descriptions will follow. If you have a large number of staff, you may be able to assign people to all of the positions listed. If not, don’t worry. Additional charts on following pages give you a framework for distributing tasks among a staff of any size.

We’ll show you how we have adapted it for child care and other early learning programs, and we’ll explain how this can be used in your size child care.


When a child care/early learning program responds to a disaster or emergency, the minimum staffing necessary will remain with and care for the children. The rest of the staff will take on new roles as necessary (as dictated by the situation). The Incident Commander (who may or may not be the Director or Designee) is responsible for all tasks until delegated.


Here’s what each role is:

The Incident Commander (IC) is responsible for directing site emergency response activities. (This is likely your director, but doesn’t have to be.) Again, the IC is responsible for all tasks until delegated. The incident commander also sets the tone for the response.

The Operations Chief manages the direct response to the disaster (site/facility check and security, search and rescue, first aid, child care, and child release). The operations chief reports directly to the IC.


The Site/Facility Check & Security Team protects the site and the people present at the site from further damage or injury. Duties include fire and utility control, creating a secure area for children and staff, and checking site/facility for any hazards and mitigating them.
The First Aid Team provides emergency medical response, first aid, and emotional support.

The Search & Rescue Team - (without putting themselves at undue risk) -searches for and recovers missing children, staff, and volunteers. Search and rescue is always done by a minimum of two people. When entering a room to do a search, team members put a slash mark (/) on door to show that they are inside. When leaving the room, they make another slash to complete an X to show that room has been searched and is empty.
The Child Care Team ensures that the children are well cared for while other teams are carrying out their responsibilities. This may include evacuating with the children.
The Child Release Team assures that children and their parent/guardian(s) or authorized adult (emergency contact) are reunited in a safe, organized manner. The team checks identification and emergency contact forms and documents for each released child: with whom they left, what time they left, and where they are going.

The Logistics Chief manages the distribution of supplies and staff during the disaster. The logistics chief reports directly to the IC.
The Supplies & Facilities Team coordinates supplies to assure supplies are best utilized and last as long as needed.

The Staffing Team coordinates the assignment of personnel (staff, children, disaster volunteers) in support of an incident. The team keeps track of hours worked, assures breaks are given to staff, and plans to send home staff as children leave.


The Planning/Administration Chief is responsible for the collection, evaluation, documentation and use of information about the incident. This person maintains accurate records and a map of the site and provides ongoing analysis of the situation (weather, light) and resource status. S/he is also responsible for maintaining financial records for the incident. The planning/administration chief reports directly to the IC.
The Documentation Team ensures that all necessary information is reported and forms are completed during the disaster or soon thereafter.
Standard ICS includes the jobs of Public Information Officer (PIO), Safety Officer and Liaison; all of whom report directly to IC and are assigned as needed.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) provides single point of information about program and communicates with staff, families, and, if necessary, the media. S/he also monitors the media.

The Safety Officer assesses and monitors hazards and unsafe situations and implements safety solutions.
The Liaison serves as a point of contact for any assisting or coordinating agencies
A larger child care program may have a PIO or Safety Officer; otherwise, these duties may be incorporated into other teams. For example, the Site/Facility Check & Security team may perform the duties of the Safety Officer and the Planning/Administration/Finance Chief may handle communications.

It’s helpful to match staff with roles beforehand. Discuss roles and responsibilities with each individual staff member first. That way, they can prepare more for the role they are likely to assume. Understand that there will need to be some flexibility, as circumstances differ. If a particular role isn’t needed, staff can be reassigned to where they would be most useful. Especially in a small program, you may also want to recruit parents/guardians or community volunteers who live or work nearby to fulfill some of these roles. If you get their volunteer paperwork completed now, you’ll have fewer worries later.
In any case, educate your staff about the Incident Command System and your entire disaster/emergency plan as soon as possible. Get everyone excited about making a difference. With a little work now you’ll have much more positive outcomes later.

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