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Is Your Child Care Program Prepared for an Emergency or Natural Disaster?

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

Caring for young children can be challenging on a day-to-day basis, and during an emergency, those challenges are greatly magnified. According to FEMA, in 2019 alone, there have been 59 declared disasters in the United States. These emergencies include earthquakes, tropical storms, fires, floods, severe storms, tornadoes, landslides, mudslides, extreme wind, and snowstorms.

Puerto Rico: A damaged building after Hurricane Maria in 2017

Natural disasters can have negative impacts on childcare programs, children, families, and businesses. Take these recent storms:

Superstorm Sandy: 2012

  • Impacted 11,500 licensed and registered child care programs in New York, which is more than half of the total programs in the entire state.

  • Caused the long-term closure of 697 child care programs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Some programs were closed as long as eight months, while others never reopened.

Louisiana Flooding: 2016

  • Impacted at least 88 child care centers in the Baton Rouge area, displacing over 6,000 children.

  • Some of these programs remain closed today.

Hurricane Matthew: 2016

  • Over a quarter of the child care providers in Cumberland County, North Carolina closed, leaving an estimated 10,200 children temporarily without child care.

Hurricane Harvey: 2017

  • More than 3 million children affected.

  • More than 4,000 child care programs, after-school programs, and schools were affected.

  • Over 650 childcare facilities were damaged or destroyed. Thousands were temporarily closed, and 50 have permanently closed.

Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico, 2017

  • Killed over 3,000 people.

  • 85% of child care programs reported damage to their facilities.

  • On average, child care programs were closed for 6 weeks.

  • 61% were closed for more than a month.

  • 39% were closed for a month or less.

  • Many child care programs are still closed as of August 2019.

  • 54% of child care centers operated with limited hours due to lack of electricity and clean drinking water.

  • 21% of child care programs had to relocate their facilities due to storm damage.

  • Children missed an average of 92 days of child care or pre-school.

  • Children experienced fear and lack of interest in attending child care.

Hurricane Irma: US Virgin Islands, 2017

  • Child care centers were closed for weeks and months, and some never reopened.

  • Children suffered from social-emotional issues, and feared another hurricane.

  • Residents went weeks without power, running water or reliable food supply.

  • Open child care centers took in displaced children and operated above capacity.

  • Behavioral issues skyrocketed.

  • Children regressed: many that were potty trained went back to diapers.

  • Increase needed in mental health assistance.

  • More than 40% of children had symptoms of post-traumatic stress more than a year after the storm.

Child care providers need to have preparedness plans for emergencies and natural disasters that are likely to occur in their communities.

How to Prepare, Respond, and Recover From an Emergency

Preparedness, Response, and Recovery are three categories that make up phases of an emergency. The better we prepare for each phase, the better our overall outcome will be. An easy way to prepare is during child care drop off and pick up. This is the perfect time to practice reunification plans and update emergency contact information.


  • Get ready for potential threats.

  • Create an emergency preparedness kit.

  • Create, discuss, update, and communicate emergency response plans.

  • Take proactive steps to prepare for impending bad weather:

  • Have parents pack extra clothing for the children.

  • Create or review an emergency cancellation policy.

  • Stock up on batteries, water, food, and other supplies.


  • Put your emergency plans into action - test them out.

  • Conduct drills.

  • Chat with your staff after the drills - Identify and fix any gaps that may exist in plans.

  • Practicing emergency response leads to more confidence and less stress.


  • Meet with your insurance company. Make sure you have coverage for your home and business.

  • Work with other child care providers and your local child care resource and referral agency to identify alternative sites and arrangements. This will allow you to continue to care for children if your program is damaged.

  • Have a plan to communicate with parents after a disaster.

  • Have a process to document your belongings (before a disaster), your losses (after a disaster), and your expenses (as you repair/rebuild).

How to Be Financially Ready for an Emergency

Access to high-quality child care is essential for a child’s mental health and the financial stability of communities. Unfortunately, many businesses do not take the time to plan for emergencies. According to FEMA, more than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster. If child care programs close, parents cannot return to work and recovery cannot begin.

Family child care providers face special challenges in recovering from a disaster because they can lose their home AND business. Further, the average income for a child care provider is $22,000, which often disqualifies providers from receiving disaster loans from the Small Business Administration. As private businesses, providers are also ineligible for disaster assistance from FEMA since they are for-profit entities.

Even without a disaster, breakdowns in child care are costly to a business. Studies show that 65% of parents’ work schedules are affected by child care closures, which is an average of 7.5 call-outs over six months. While this may seem inconsequential, the impact on businesses is immense. U.S. businesses lose $4.4 billion annually due to employee absenteeism as a result of child care breakdowns, and this only gets worse during a disaster.

Recovery is an important, community-level issue. Making sure there are plans in place to ensure the continued availability of child care is of the utmost importance. Many parents can't return to work after a disaster due to a lack of child care. Communities that ensure the availability of continued child care services during and after a disaster can expedite reopening businesses and re-establishing essential services.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness provides emergency preparedness, response, and recovery training to child care providers across the United States. We partner with child care serving agencies, such as child care resource and referral organizations to bring these trainings to your community. We also work directly with child care organizations, and bring our customized training directly to your facility. Schedule a training with us today:

For CCR&R’s: We can insert personalized statistics for your state/city, including declared disasters on FEMA’s website. Contact us today for a personalized emergency blog post for your newsletter or social media campaigns.



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