WINDSOR, Colo. – When the tornado loomed on the horizon, the child care team had only 90 seconds to get their toddlers and young children off the playground and inside, and they all knew where to go.
As the winds screamed overhead, tugging at the roof and demolishing buildings all around them, more than 100 children and 20 staff members huddled on the floor in their assigned spaces.
Shortly afterward, the word went out to firefighters, and over radio stations, that the Windmill Child Enrichment Center in Windsor, Colo., had been totally demolished by the tornado that swept through town. On the way to the scene, a lieutenant briefed his fire crew that this was a recovery mission – they would be looking for the bodies of small children. Parents raced to the scene, nauseous with fear.
As they came within sight of the center, firefighters and parents alike pulled over to pause, recover – and rejoice. The center was still standing, almost intact. No one was hurt.
This near-tragedy on May 22, 2008, created an opportunity to call attention to the lack of knowledge and standards about disaster preparedness among child care centers. In Colorado, more than half of all children up to five years old are in a licensed child care facility during weekdays. Yet it is one of 21 states with no standard for preparedness by child care providers. Nationwide, only three studies have been done of how well-prepared child care centers are for emergencies.
That is a situation FEMA’s Region VIII office in Denver hopes to resolve through a study by the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University. Regional Administrator Robin Finegan – assisted by a dozen Windmill kindergarten children – presented Lori Peek of the CDRA with a $30,000 grant on Aug. 27 to launch a two-year study of disaster preparedness among Colorado child care centers.
“These child care providers play a critical role in keeping children safe on a daily basis and in times of disaster,” says Peek. “Yet very little is actually known about how they prepare for disaster. Do they have emergency kits? Evacuation plans? Reunification plans to reunite parents and children after an event?”
The study will begin with an intensive study of child care facilities in two counties near the university. The results of that phase will be used to offer a workshop to child care providers, and to refine the questions to be asked in a statewide online survey of the more than 4,000 licensed child care providers in the state, including homecare providers – the first statewide study to be done in the nation. Peek hopes the study will become a national model for analyzing the level of preparedness among child care centers.
“We at FEMA treat preparedness as if it were a matter of life and death,” adds Finegan. “… because it is.”
FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan speaks at the press conference at the Windmill Child Enrichment Center in Windsor, Colo., Aug. 27. Behind her, (left) John Michaels, Windsor police chief; Lori Peek, co-director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis; Krysti Bernhardt, former director of the Windmill center; and Dan Nyquist, FEMA community preparedness officer. Photo by Cynthia Hunter/FEMA
FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan speaks from the podium during a $30,000 grant presentation to the Colorado State University Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at the Windmill Child Enrichment Center on Mon., Aug. 27. CSU will perform a groundbreaking study on disaster preparedness at child care centers in Colorado. The Windsor child care center was struck by a 2008 tornado, but the children were saved by emergency plans already in place. FEMA Photo/Cynthia Hunter