Communities Hit by Disasters Can’t Rebuild if Parents Can’t Get to Work.

Largely forgotten, and certainly far removed from the headlines, the daunting task of recovery continues throughout the areas ravaged by hurricanes in late 2017. As more than a year has now passed, childhood programs and facilities impacted by Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, are only now beginning to rebuild — many with little to no help from insurance.

Banana Cabana in the Florida Keys, after the hurricane

Often overlooked, the child care sector — a $41.5 billion industry — is an essential underpinning of the overall economy. This sector of the economy is still feeling the effects of our most recent hurricane season; in Texas alone, there are nearly 500 child care programs still in the process of recovering.

Visiting the Florida Keys After Hurricane Irma

At the request of the local child care resource and referral agency in Florida, I deployed to the Florida Keys to assist with the recovery efforts. I was greeted by piles of debris, some as high as fifteen feet, lining the streets. Electric service was sporadic and cell phone service was mostly non-existent. The middle Keys were still reeling from the damage left behind from the September 10, 2017 strike by Hurricane Irma. The storm was the strongest hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic and made landfall on Cudjoe Key with 130 miles per hour winds.

Piles of debris seen driving North on US-1

Visiting child care centers, we saw that foot-high floods had damaged drywall and floors, contaminated toys, and destroyed sleep cots and blankets. Almost everything had to be thrown out; classrooms were unusable.

The Keys were placed under mandatory evacuation. Once families were allowed to return, nearly 500 children quickly found themselves without a place to go. Schools and child care programs were closed. Debris made outdoor play hazardous. The result: many parents couldn’t return to work, hampering recovery efforts.

Child care providers did what they could to help return a sense of normalcy to the children. Roxanne Rosado, director of child care center Banana Cabana in Summerland Key, Florida, cared for a dozen children in her own home as the center was rebuilt. The center lost two staff members who had to move after their homes were destroyed. It was weeks before it was able to reopen in a nearby school — and then with only two classrooms, down from four.

The center’s insurance covered nothing, according to Rosado, and it was only able to reopen thanks to donations.

In Florida, one licensing requirement for child care centers is that their outdoor play areas have adequate fencing, shade, and soft-fall surfaces. Outdoor areas, including trees, surfacing materials, toys, and fencing all were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. In order to get these programs back to licensing standards, the local CCR&R and the licensing authority worked together with philanthropy organizations to ensure outdoor playgrounds were rebuilt in an age-appropriate way, exceeding safety standards. I was fortunate to play a small role in this effort and am happy to report that Banana Cabana is back open for business.

Thanks to donations, Banana Cabana was able to reopen

If you would like to learn more about the recovery efforts in the Florida Keys, I would encourage you to listen to my Domestic Preparedness Journal Podcast - recorded with the lead for Monroe County recovery efforts, Matthew Massoud.

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