Illinois meets only one of four minimum standards to protect children should a natural or man-made disaster strike, according to a recent study.
In reviewing 50 states and Washington, D.C., the nonprofit Save the Children organization found that although Illinois requires by law a written procedure for disaster planning in K-12 schools, it has none of the other safeguards that apply to child care facilities.
The study notes that through state law and regulation, Illinois fails to require specifically written multi-hazard evacuation plans, family reunification plans, and plans for accommodating children with special needs in child care centers during disasters.
To be fair, most other states do not live up to one or more of the standards, and only seven – among them Alabama, Hawaii and Maryland – meet them all. And some – such as Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin – don’t meet any.
But with or without those explicit state requirements in place, McHenry County schools and child care facilities say they are being proactive in their training and testing efforts. Many also already draft more extensive written plans in case of emergencies.
“This has been a hot topic because I’m with the health department and know how important it is,” said Kathy Urbanus-Bernero, a public health nurse with the Healthy Child Care Illinois program, which partners with Community Coordinated Child Care and the McHenry County Department of Health.
Urbanus-Bernero offers disaster training seminars each year for both child care facilities and at-home providers. The sessions are detailed to disasters that might occur in the local area, as well as becoming aware of backup supplies and handling specific health-related issues that might make some children more vulnerable in emergency situations.
“The goal of these trainings is to help [child care providers] become aware of the importance of developing policies and procedures in preparing for emergencies,” she added.
At the elementary school level and beyond, McHenry County districts are required to conduct an annual drill report on natural disasters and more potentially serious ones – such as shootings or terrorist attacks.
Plans also are in place for countywide mobilization and dispensation of medications, and most districts have alert systems installed that automatically notify parents of emergencies.
Safety issues also are examined closely in regular meetings with McHenry County Emergency Management, said Gene Goeglein, who runs the county’s regional education office.
“There are those things that are unpredictable, and we have to be vigilant,” Goeglein said. “I feel comfortable as the regional superintendent in our schools’ practice, drills, plans and policies. Everything’s in place if we ever need them.”
Locally, businesses and police agencies also are interested in preventing crises.
The Marengo M.O.R.E. Center and Marengo-Union Chamber of Commerce will co-host a crisis identification and intervention workshop at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 4 in the Marengo Community High School auditorium. The seminar, which is open to the public, will focus on identifying threats and stopping arguments from escalating.
Likewise, the Algonquin Police Department and District 300 staff will participate in a private training session next month regarding school violence prevention through better behavioral assessments. It will be instructed by Chicago-based FBI agents.
“If you can, you intervene on the front end, instead of waiting until something happens,” Algonquin Deputy Police Chief Ed Urban said, adding that it helps when schools and police work together. “[The workshop will] get people to know each other and talk. If there’s problems and you network, you’ll have a better chance to solve them.”
To view Save the Children’s report, “The Disaster Decade: Lessons Unlearned for the United States,” visit www.save
Ten questions that parents should ask their child care providers:
• Do you have an emergency preparedness plan for disasters that are likely to occur in our area?
• How will you safely evacuate my child to a safe, predetermined location?
• How and when will I be notified if a disaster occurs when my child is in child care?
• If I cannot get to my child during or after a disaster, how will you continue to care for my child?
• Have you and your staff received training on how to respond to my child’s physical and emotional needs during and after a disaster?
• Will you teach my older child what to do during an emergency?
• Do you have a disaster kit or supply kit with enough items to meet my child’s needs for at least 72 hours or three days?
• Do the state and local emergency management agencies and responders know about your child care program and where it is located?
• How may I help you during and after a disaster?
• After a disaster occurs, how will I be notified about your plan to reopen?
Source: National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies