The last few years have definitely been stressful. Lives have been lost and others have been completely upended. Living with the enduring uncertainty and stress of the pandemic, including the accompanying restrictions, certainly has not been easy. Sadly, some of these stressors have helped to create an environment that is conducive to crime and violence. We have, indeed, seen this play out not only in Canada and the United States but also throughout the world. All one needs to do is look at recent headlines to gain a sense of this reality.
This increase in crime and violence comes at a challenging time – as many law enforcement agencies have recently seen a reduction in staffing, funding, or both. As early childhood educators, we need to be paying attention to these trends. After all, each day we are entrusted with the monumental task of ensuring that we create an environment that is as safe and secure as possible for the children in our care.
Fortunately, there are some great resources to help us enhance our safety and security measures. One of these resources is the Institute for Childhood Preparedness – an organization that was founded solely to help ensure that early childhood professionals are as prepared as possible for emergencies and disasters.
Recently, Andy and Ron from the Institute conducted a webinar for HiMama that focused on ways to increase safety and security at your program. Here are some key tips from the Institute on how you can increase your levels of preparedness and security at your early childhood program.
Tip 1: Emergency preparedness is not just a one-off event.
For most of us, we are required to conduct emergency drills on a routine basis. These are perfect opportunities to ensure our emergency plans are up-to-date and realistic. These drills should not be seen as a ‘chore’ or something we do ‘just to check a box’. Instead, we should use these drills to help further learning and understanding with our staff. Too often we see the director or administrator lead these drills. While that can be helpful at the beginning of a new year, it does little to engage or challenge the staff once they are familiar with the procedures.
For your next drill, consider using a scenario where the director or the administrator is out for the day – they could be sick, at a conference, or just on vacation. Place one of the teachers in the leadership position and have them conduct the drill. This will help increase their understanding of the policy/procedure and provide them with greater insight into the responsibilities that others have during an emergency.
Tip 2: Ensure everyone knows your physical address.
This may sound very simple, but you will be astonished to learn how many of your co-workers do not know the address of your building. This was not too important a few decades ago when we all had landline phones. However, today with cellular phones – this is of paramount importance. When you call for emergency assistance (911), the emergency dispatch center only receives the address of the cell phone tower that you are connected to, but they do not receive the actual address you are calling from. Knowing your physical address will help you provide the dispatcher with the necessary information they need to get help on its way in an emergency.
Tip 3: Ensure everyone knows that they are allowed to call, and how to call, for emergency assistance.
Not too long ago, when we would conduct training at early childhood programs, we would ask – “who is allowed to call 911 in case of an emergency?”. Overwhelmingly the answer we would receive was “only the director can call 911”. Thankfully, this has been changing over the last several years.
The correct answer is “anyone who thinks 911 is needed, is allowed to call”. After all, we are working with adults – adults whom we trust to have sound judgment and look after children each day. We should be comfortable to allow staff to exercise their discretion when emergency services are needed, as time is of the essence and emergencies can’t wait. For instance, a fire doubles in size each minute. It would be nonsensical to enact a policy that would cause a delay in notifying emergency officials.
Tip 4: Changing rules and regulations present an opportunity to re-evaluate.
We would be hard-pressed to find a good thing that came out of the last three years of COVID-19. However, one positive outcome is that the pandemic circumstances forced early childhood programs to limit the number of individuals coming and going at their facilities. Countless programs implemented drop-off and pick-up procedures where parents were not allowed in the building. We have long stated that which should be obvious – having a locked door and limiting access to your program is good for safety and security.
With COVID-19, many programs were forced to implement these types of policies and procedures, as children, parents, and staff had to undergo testing before entering into the program space. Now that COVID-19 is starting to wane, early childhood professionals have a decision to make. Do we return to the ‘way it was’ or do we take this opportunity to keep policies in place that make our program safer and more secure?
As the last few years have shown, not everyone needs to have daily access to our program space. In fact, I think we can all agree that your program is safer and cleaner without countless individuals being allowed inside. As restrictions and regulations begin to change, now is the time to think about how you want to structure your building’s security. Keeping a policy in place that limits the amount and frequency of visitors should be on your list of considerations.
Tip five: Plug in to your community.
Being aware of what is happening around your neighborhood is of paramount importance. Luckily in 2022, it is easier than ever to become ‘in the know’ about what is going on. This has been an issue for numerous early childhood programs because unlike our counterparts in elementary, middle, and high schools, we would seldom receive information about dangerous situations in our area. While most of the traditional ‘schools’ that serve older children receive this information directly from law enforcement, early childhood programs were often left ‘in the dark’ about threats, active crime scenes, and investigations.
With the widespread adoption of a host of communication tools – such as social media, email alerts, and mobile texting programs – early childhood programs have many possible avenues to receive this information. As a starting point, we suggest searching online for your local law enforcement and emergency management agencies. Many times they will have platforms that allow you to receive emergency alerts directly on your phone or computer. If no such platform is available, reach out to your local school district and see if they would be willing to add you to their emergency notification system. If all else fails, reach out to your local law enforcement agency and ask them for the best way to stay up-to-date on nearby crime or incidents. After a short explanation of your background and the services you provide, they normally will be very accommodating of your request.
These five tips are designed to help increase the level of preparedness and security at your program. These are low-cost to implement but can have big impacts. We encourage you to shift your thinking about preparedness. Too many programs have ended up in less-than-ideal situations because their approach was either ‘it will never happen here’ or ‘this is just a chore that I must do for licensing’.
Preparedness should be viewed as an investment. The more we can prepare ahead of time, the more confidence we can instill in our staff, and the more familiar we become with our emergency plans the better. To put it simply, the time to learn how to use a fire extinguisher is not when the building is on fire. Consider applying this same type of thinking to all of the other disasters and threats that our program faces on a daily basis. In the end, we want you to remember that practice doesn’t make perfect, but rather practice makes you prepared.
Make sure to watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here!
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