A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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Emergency Preparedness for Head Start

September 2019

Head Start Image It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about disasters, but childcare plays an important role in disaster recovery. Imagine a family affected by a hurricane. Their house may need repairs, neighbors may need help, and money may be tight. Parents depend on safe and reliable childcare. But if their childcare center can’t open, they can’t go back to work. Businesses lose workers, and stores lose customers. All of this can affect the ability of the whole community to recover. It’s especially true in historically under-served communities where Head Start centers have a heavy presence. Preparing Head Start and other early childhood education centers can help the whole community recover.

FEMA Region V serves the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It also serves the 34 federally recognized tribes located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. For five years, Region V staff has provided preparedness training for Head Start and other childcare centers. This training was created in a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

This training takes grantees, center directors, and staff through four workshops. Each workshop is four hours long and builds on the previous workshops. They are designed take place a month apart. This gives participants the opportunity to put in place what they’ve learned. The first workshop teaches the basics of emergency management and personal preparedness. It stresses that Head Start staff need to prepare as individuals. Only then can they prepare their facilities effectively.

The second workshop focuses on operational preparedness. It walks staff through the basics of creating an Emergency Operations Plan. This is based on the official Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs. It ensures plans will meet Head Start operations requirements. It also addresses the specific needs of childcare facilities.

The third workshop is about community preparedness. Participants use mapping tools to find strengths and weaknesses within their community. At this point, participants are encouraged to reach out to partners. These might include local law enforcement, fire departments, businesses, and residential organizations. These partners are also an important part of planning.

The series ends with a workshop on active shooter preparedness. This workshop was added after the first year based on feedback. Typically, local law enforcement or emergency management professionals are invited to provide this training.

Currently, FEMA Region V is working with HHS to roll out the training region-wide. The demand for the training continues to grow. It not only helps prepare an important community organization, but it also protects some of the most vulnerable members of that community.

More resources for preparing Head Start and child care centers can be found at:

HHS, Office of Head Start Emergency Preparedness Page

HHS, Office of Child Care Statewide Disaster Plan for Child Care

HHS, Office of Child Care Emergency Preparedness Resources for Grantees and Child Care Providers

IS-36: Multihazard Planning for Childcare

ChildCare Aware Crisis and Disaster Resources

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.