Friday, September 11, 2015

Child Care Emergency Preparedness in the Washington Wildfires

Called a "slow-motion disaster" by Governor J. Inslee, this summer's wildfires have claimed hundreds of thousands of acres of land and three lives.

Among the affected areas in Washington is the city of Omak and among the many families who experienced loss and property damage are child care providers in that area.

Brianne Gates is a fairly new family home child care provider in Omak.
"I started my business in April," said Gates. "But I grew up helping at my aunt's day care. If you were going to be there, you were going to help. I've been around child care for a long time."
Today, Bree's Child Care (Gates' business) welcomes six children ranging in age from eight months to six years old. Gates herself is currently expecting her second child, and experienced the fires while approaching her eighth month of pregnancy.
"I got a phone call from a friend at the fire department at 12:20 in the afternoon. The kids were finishing lunch," said Gates.
The community in which Gates lives had been on alert since early-mid August as a fire across the river from her home had started due to lightning. On this day in particular, the winds had increased at a dangerous rate.

Gates' contact at the fire department told her that the fire had jumped the river and was now on a road very close to her home.

Thankfully, Gates has a clear policy and procedure for emergency situations, and she is careful to communicate this with parents.
"When I first consider accepting a new child into my care, I invite both a parent and the child to my home," said Gates. "I spend the meeting time getting to know their child, interacting with them, and following along as the parent reads my policies."
Gates is available to answer questions, as well as point out highlighted portions of her policies such as her emergency preparedness and evacuation policies. Gates also holds periodic drills for earthquakes and other disasters.
"After I got the call from the fire department, I issued a group text to the parents telling them we were planning to evacuate for the safety of the children," said Gates. 

Within minutes every parent had responded, asking if Gates and the children were already at the designated space (a department store's large concrete parking lot, about one mile from the home--where much of the community stayed the night in campers).
"I was amazed that the parents remembered the place we were supposed to go, and even more amazed at how fast they responded to the situation," said Gates. "There are other providers in my community that experienced property damage and did not have the same good luck with parents."
According to Gates, the evacuation process took around 10 minutes and was very successful. Bree's Child Care was out of business for several days following the evacuation.
"When it was bad, you could see this red cloud coming at us--filled with hot embers. We were close to losing our house, but we didn't," said Gates. "By the following week, we were back down to a [alert] level 1."
With the support of her community and the help of parents, no child was harmed and Gates did not experience property loss.

Gates' experience is a great example of how important consistent communication is for parents and providers. Having an emergency preparedness plan is just one of the ways Washington's child care providers promote child health and safety. To find out about emergency preparedness levels, go here: Wildfire Levels.

To learn more about licensed child care in Washington, go here: Licensed Child Care.

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