EP 27 A Discussion on Preparedness of Daycare Facilities
[TODD DEVOE] Hi, this is Todd DeVoe with EM Weekly, and today, we have with us Heather Beal, and she has a great product basically getting in front of children and youth for emergency preparedness and disaster training. So, Heather, welcome to EM Weekly. Tell me really quick a little bit about yourself and how you got started, and how you got started writing your books for kids?
[HEATHER BEAL] Well, thanks, Todd, for having me. I appreciate it. I recently retired from the military, after 23 years. I spent a lot of time targeting bad guys, and interestingly enough, I studied conflict resolution and a lot of crisis management exercise planning while in. Over time, of course, you meet the love of your life, you have children and your perspective changes, and you worry a lot about what’s going to happen to them too. So, I used my emergency management training and my ability to handle issues to try and take a look at how can I help prepare them for disaster. There are statistics out there that say anywhere from 33 to 35 hours a week, children under the age of 5, 61% of them, are in some sort of childcare arrangement. So, the odds of me being there if something bad happened are pretty low. That doesn’t help me sleep at night. So, I thought: ok, what can I do to fix that? I also made the mistake of trying to tell my daughter, who as four at the time; and it was at night, it was dark, there were a rainstorm and a tornado watch. I tried to explain we might have to go to the basement. I failed miserably and framed her. So, I realized: maybe there’s a better way to do this. So, I started taking a look at what was available, and there really isn’t anything out there, or very little out there, for kids at the pre-school/early elementary age. We watch a lot of Daniel Tiger’s in this house, both my kids. And Daniel Tiger’s is a way of trying to introduce scary topics with song and talking through issues, and it really strokes a note with me. So, I came up with this idea of starting to publish children’s books, that teaches them what to do if, before it happens. So, maybe then it won’t be as scary.
[TODD DEVOE] Well, that’s brilliant! I have two kids myself, and I live in an area where we have an earthquake. And we did have an earthquake just recently, a couple of years ago, actually. And it was amazing to see my son react in a positive way when the earthquake was going on. And we have my daughter, who was a little bit younger at the time, and he actually pulled her under the coffee table, like he was trained in school. So training kids to not be afraid of these things is brilliant, because he did a great job, and my daughter was ok. You know, it was a little scary, it was a small earthquake, it was like, a 5.8 or something like that. But still, you know, because of the training that he got in school and the stuff that we talked about beforehand, he wasn’t even nervous about it, he just acted like you’re supposed to. So, I agree with you. Pre-training the kids is really important. So, tell me the topics that you have in your books and how do you get those in front of the children?
[HEATHER BEAL] Thanks, Todd. The first book I wrote was “Elephant Win.” It’s about tornados, and I know it sounds like an odd title, but try to explain what a funnel cloud is to a five-year-old. They don’t know what a funnel is, right? But they do know what an elephant trunk looks like. So, we kind of ticked that approach to it. So, the second book is called “Tummy Rumble Quake,” and like the name suggests, it’s about earthquakes. And that one should be out any day now, so I’m really excited about that. So, I’ve put it out, it’s on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all the major distributors. I’m also talking to childcare organizations and emergency managers about trying to include these materials as part of their outreach programs to the community, to get something out there for the younger kids.
[TODD DEVOE] I think that’s a great idea. It’s something that I would like to use myself. I know there’s a program that was started by the National 911 System, called Ready Fox 911 program or something like that, I forget the exact title. But it’s the same concept, what they did is they made it easy for kids to know what 911 is, and how it works, and that type of stuff. So, I can see your program being something along that line, that type of program. Have you spoken to any emergency managers or any state or local groups to push this out?
[HEATHER BEAL] I have, actually. I also run a non-profit, where I’m trying to help prepare childcare for disasters. So, over the years, I’ve been building up a connection, a network of folks in both the EM community and childcare. And I’ve had some real positive feedback about the first book. I have an emergency manager in Florida who ordered like, 500 copies of it, to use as part of their outreach program. So, the interest is there, is just getting the word out that there is a product to meet their need. And that’s where I’m trying to focus my time now.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s exactly why I invited you to be on this show because I think that as emergency managers, learning about products like this is key to helping our community get the word out, and programs like yours are really important. Let’s talk here about your other venture, your non-profit that you were just talking about, regarding getting pre-schools trained in disaster response. How does that work?
[HEATHER BEAL] That’s a great question, Todd, and the answer, unfortunately, right now is better in theory than actuality. It’s a tough nut to crack, and I’ll tell you why. There is some overarching guidance out there. Let’s start with the National Commission for Children Disaster, in 2010, made some recommendations about the state of childcare preparedness, and just the preparedness of children in general. (inaudible) does their annual report card, talking about whether states are meeting the different criteria for being ready. And the Childcare Development and Block Grant Act also provides some recommendations for emergency operations plan. Unfortunately, most of the childcares don’t really understand what that means, and the ones that do get it, they still don’t have the resources and the time to really operationalize it. They get the training the state requires, it’s usually a fill-in-the-blanks form, they post it, they met the state requirement, check. It’s kind of scary, I’m actually very worried about their real ability to handle the issues when they happen. Fire drills, they’ve got down. Childcare has been doing that for ages, right? But a lot of these other scary things, like post-disaster reunification with family, notification of families.
[TODD DEVOE] Obviously, even at the private school level, there are plans and said that, talking about reunification and how we’re gonna do that. You know, my son goes to a private school, and they have off-site reunification centers all set up and everything like that, and I don’t know if it’s because we’re here in California or if it’s the school he goes to is progressive that way. There’s tons of big care centers and Head Start programs all over the place, and I wonder about that too. As an emergency manager, what their responsibilities are. Because they’re not, as far as I know, they’re not that regulated by the (EM) like a public school is. And you know, you see it all the time. Now, I’m enrolling kids of 12, I’m now enrolling pre-k here, and I look at those places, and I think in the back of my mind: “What is their plan to get these kids back?” Because in California, specifically, we’re talking about the large-scale earthquake, and getting people to and from when the roads are clogged. If you think about the Midwest, like Oklahoma, where the entire city was just devastated and demolished, what are their plans to get people back with their children? Do you know this?
[HEATHER BEAL] You bring up a lot of great points, and I wish I could give you a reassurance that they have a plan and that they’re working on it. But the reality is a lot of different issues. First, it’s the not just accreditation, but the follow-up reinforcement piece of it. For example, one of the states I just lived in, I went to the training that they give childcare providers, the mandatory training on emergency management. And the lady told them all: yes, you’re supposed to have three days’ supplies on hand, but no one will ever check. So, there’s that going on, which is kind of a problem, right? Each state doesn’t have the resources to enforce and make sure that they’re really ready for the disaster. And it’s incentive! The childcare providers are doing this out of their own pocket. It’s not a high profit industry to start with. Employee turnover is horrific, because they can’t pay the employees what they want, and most of their cost are all in wages and salaries. So, it’s difficult. One of the things my non-profit has come up with is a certification program, where it helps them operationalize the plan. In the military, you’ve heard of re-call drills, right?
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah.
[HEATHER BEAL] You write down your list, you need to get a hold of all your people, call the boss, “Got it, I found everybody.” That’s kind of a foreign concept in childcare. They have a list, everyone fills out their paperwork, you hope the parents update it. I’ve asked a couple of them: “When is the last time you tried to contact all of those numbers and see if they work?” And I get blank looks. Because the only time they made a phone call is if something is wrong with the child. In the event of something is wrong with the entire daycare, we just experienced an earthquake, whatever it is, they have no idea how much time that’s gonna take, the issues, how current that information is. And even just talking about that is a starting point. A lot of them realize they need to do it, but there’s a lack of incentive to do it. They care about their children, they love the children, I don’t want to say they don’t. But when it comes to being able to dedicate their resources and time to actually do all the prep, there’s a shortfall.
[TODD DEVOE] Can cities regulate childcare? I know they can regulate where childcare goes. But can they regulate what childcares need to have? Or that just runs specifically by states or by department of education?
[HEATHER BEAL] Most of what my experience has done so far, is there’s one agency in the state, usually Department of Education, sometimes Health and Human Services, sometimes Family Services, in which childcare is accredited. And re-accreditations or inspections criteria is set there. In the state laws, usually there will be something about… there is always, sorry. There is always something about child safety and regulation for family daycare versus center daycare. And they look at the number, the capacity numbers. But the amount of details on specifics for disaster preparedness, it’s kind of an afterthought. Child safety is at the forefront; child safety in health. And disaster preparedness really isn’t thought about as its own separate entity, requiring additional resources and information.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I know that with my daughter, she was required to send her some food, to get kind of little treat kit, and change her clothes and stuff like that, and we put it in little bags, and they put it in their cubbies. And I don’t know if that’s, again, the school where we’re at, or if that’s something that they’re supposed to do. I mean, it seems like it should be something pretty easy that a city can… and I don’t know what the legalities are, so I’m kind of talking out of turn here. But a city should be able to just say: hey, this is what our expectations are. Because as a city emergency manager, that’s gonna become our problem really quickly if we can’t reunify those children with their family members in a timely manner. Because Red Cross is not going to take those kids, and the county social services are going to be overwhelmed. So, what do we do with those children that are being sent back to home? I mean, what are the pre-k, daycare centers responsibilities as far as reunification goes, and how long can they hold children until they can be reunified with their parents? This is kind of a perplexing question right there.
[HEATHER BEAL] And honestly, Todd, if there was an easy answer, I would be quoting that out to everybody. It is difficult. I’m going to try to answer some of your questions in there. As far as cities making the rules, I really can’t speak to that specifically. But the thing you remember though, too, is if cities can legislate like the state can for what they want the daycares to do, it still comes down to resources. If they can’t afford it, what’s gonna happen? You’re gonna charge the parents more. And the tuition I pay for both of my children, (inaudible) community college Master’s course, right? It’s not cheap for a parent, but their kid is there. So, unless there’s resources going along with the requirement, it’s still going to be done to the minimum level, because they just simply can’t afford it. An interesting thing too, is with childcare, I’ve had my daughter, and my son… every place my son has been, they’ve had a kitchen. They’ve cooked the meals. When I started with my daughter, we had daycares where we had to bring our food. We’ve had days that we had to prepare a bottle, you couldn’t even leave an extra can of formula there. So, how are they prepared for a big disaster? 120-something kids, in which you had to bring your own food every day?
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[HEATHER BEAL] It’s difficult.
[TODD DEVOE] Hang on a second, let’s take a quick break here, and then when we come back, I do have a question regarding levels of daycare, and maybe you can help us out with that. And welcome back from the break. So, before we went on break, I kind of eluded the fact of the level of daycare, and in my mind, I’m talking about pre-k, baby, 3-4-year-old child, already out of diapers, already out of formula, and that type of stuff. But then you, you kind of mentioned the formula issue, and that kind of opened up another question for me. What age level are we talking about with these family care, daycare, pre-kindergarten programs?
[HEATHER BEAL] Well, I’d say it depends on the facility. Most of the places I’ve been, in three different states (inaudible). It depends on the capacity of the organization, but a lot of them will take infants as young as 6 weeks. Some, 8 weeks, some 11 weeks. Some will take children until 2 years old. It depends, I mean, if it’s family-based, if it’s inside a home, if it’s a center, how large it is. And each state has different requirements, a ratio of for every 3 infants, there’s got to be one provider. For every four to seven, depending on the state, maybe it’s… for every seven two-year-old’s, there has to be a provider. Some states, with ten. So, the differences in what are the requirements on how many staff they have to have, can also vary by state. And you’re talking about a wide range of kids. And an interesting thing people forget is that childcare isn’t just through newborn, if you will, up to five years old. A lot of them before and after school programs too.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow, that’s a bigger issue than I even thought. When I invited you to come on, I’m like: “This is a pretty interesting issue.” And now, I’m sitting here, thinking: “Wow, this is a huge issue.” At the college where I work, we actually have a daycare center. I was going to talk to them and have some questions for them, but now I have some really tough questions to ask those people. They’re going to love you for that one.
[HEATHER BEAL] Hold on getting the word out.
[TODD DEVOE] It really is. So, how long have you been working on this issue?
[HEATHER BEAL] I started getting interesting and involved in this, and started by BLOCKS in 2015.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok, a couple of years now.
[HEATHER BEAL] It has been a few years. I’ve been speaking at some emergency management conferences, trying to get the word out, but like you said, if it was easier, they’d already be fixed. People acknowledge the problem, but there’s no funding. Unlike the schools, they get state and federal funding. These are mostly for-profit organizations. And we haven’t even talked about my other favorite topic, which is childcare recovery, and how that impacts community recovery.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, let’s talk about that! Wow, ok. So, I guess we’re not going to… obviously, in this one single podcast, we’re not going to be able to answer the questions all the way through, but we definitely are raising some serious questions. So, for those of you that are out in the community, that are listening to this, I’d love to hear what your solutions are and start this conversation. So you can go ahead on the website, and send us a message and let us know what you guys are doing in your specific communities regarding those questions that we’ve brought up with Heather. All right, Heather, so, let’s talk about your other passion here that you just brought up. Tell me a little bit about that program and what that means.
[HEATHER BEAL] So, I speak a lot about it, childcare recovery. It’s a kind of forgotten infrastructure of community continuity, if you will. If parents don’t go back to work, the community is not going to recovery post-disaster. And that’s a reality, right? Businesses can’t go back to work if employees can’t have a safe place to drop their kids off. But enabling mechanisms for that are almost non-existent.
[TODD DEVOE] I know that we talked about, during swine flu planning and whatnot, that we’re looking at a 40% reduction, at a minimum, on the workplace. That’s not even if the person gets sick, that’s also if the children gets sick, and a parent has to stay home, or sometimes both of the parents are sick as well.
[HEATHER BEAL] Well, Todd, I’ll tell you from personal experience. They’re going to just close the childcare. Even if some of the kids are safe, they’re not going to take any risks, because it is such an incubator of everything known to man. I know because I have two children, I’ve gotten almost all of it. And that’s on a normal basis. Let alone in a pandemic. Childcare is going to be closed, schools are going to be closed, there’s not going to be a place to take the kids.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow. So then, what do you think a solution to that is?
[HEATHER BEAL] We’ve got to be able to find a way to better enable childcare, and there’s been some work done, and actually, this is what my dissertation is focused on. After Superstorm Sandy, on New York and New Jersey, they had the children in the task forces, and they (inaudible) state money to help child care recover. Typically, childcares doesn’t get anything; as you know, they don’t qualify for public assistance, because they’re for-profit. But if the childcares don’t open, like we talked about, that’s the problem. Just even from a basic business economy perspective, they do open, but it takes a while for them to open. In the meantime, as a parent, I’m going to find a place to put my child. If it takes six months for my old childcare to open, I’m sorry, I’m not going to take them back. Not because I don’t want to go back to people we know, and we gotta assume they’re still there. But at that point, my child is at an attachment development issue stage, in which continual disruptions are going to be very hard on him or her. They’re not going to want (inaudible) and then take them back. So once they lose the business, they may have lost it forever. And they’ve gotta try and get a new business there.
[TODD DEVOE] Right. We actually had a conversation in an episode with Dr. Kunzmann, regarding business continuity for small businesses. And we talked a little about the hair salon type of thing, where if you do not open back in three days, you’re going to lose your clients that way. And I can see the same thing happening with childcare issues, that if you’re not back up and running within a few days you’re going to lose those clients as well. So, not only is it just the parents that have an issue, is that small business. And since it is for-profit, that small business is producing taxes for the city that they are in, so then, there’s this sort of ripple effect associated to that as well. So, I can definitely see that there needs to be a constructive reunification recovery plan specifically for childcare. So, are you working on that issue with those small businesses as well?
[HEATHER BEAL] So, I haven’t been able to get as far into the business continuity piece as I want to yet. But one of the issues I have identified, even early on, and I’ve talked to some of the FEMA folks at the different panels. A lot of things that people don’t think about, childcare, you think about it as a small business. But a lot of times, they’re renting a facility. So, even the best business continuity plan is going to be constrained by the business continuity plans of that landlord, if you will. They may not have a plan for getting back in place because they haven’t thought about it yet, it’s one of the 400 properties that they own in the city. So, who is engaging them? And I got a lot of blank looks and: “oh, wow, you’re right” kind of faces across the panels, because no one has really thought about that. We target small business owners, but we’re not targeting the landlord, if you will, as well. So, we’ve got to make a concerted effort to get them onboard to help enable childcare and any other business relying on their graces, if you will.
[TODD DEVOE] What was the (inaudible) rate of childcare after Sandy?
[HEATHER BEAL] So, I haven’t got the exact numbers, but I do know that 10,000 childcares were impacted. So, I haven’t got the exact data on that. I’m trying to remember my statistics from Katrina. I think they said that in one of the counties, only 19% of childcares came back within the first year.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow, that’s huge! That’s a huge impact, not just from the business side, but just on everything. Because what do you do with your kids? I mean, how do you go back to work, and then what’s the impact on those people that are staying away from work because they don’t have childcare, they don’t have the support structure, and they don’t have a quality childcare to go to? What’s the economic devastation that occurs to those local jurisdictions, with people not going back to work? And what’s the impact on those businesses of people not being able to go back to work on them. Wow, that’s a huge… that’s a ripple effect for sure, just based upon childcare.
[HEATHER BEAL] Absolutely. And one of my favorite quotes that I have in my papers, (inaudible). The second largest impediment to community recovery after lack of housing is lack of childcare.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow. You’re definitely opening my eyes to an issue that I haven’t really studies, and have only given cautionary thought to. And this is really something that we probably should give a lot more than just, you know, “oh yeah, that’s a problem, we’ll talk about it later,” because that is a tough question right there.
[HEATHER BEAL] (inaudible), I’m not trying to do that. The point is getting the word out, getting people to realize it. Because once they hear this, they’re like: oh my gosh, you’re right! We really haven’t… we’ve just been assuming things. It’s all been a continuous flow. And it’s not! The impacts, they’re just huge. So, we’ve got to figure out a way to help enable childcare survival, so that community can recover.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok, so based on that, what are good next steps for people who are listening to this podcast and really want to start reaching out to their childcare centers within their jurisdiction? What are the next steps? What can they do to help this problem out?
[HEATHER BEAL] So, the first thing I recommend that we need to do is prepare the kit. Getting through the disaster is the first step. We can’t protect them from everything, we can’t guarantee their safety, but we can arm them with enough, to hopefully increase their odds. But that’s the first thing. Cause the most prepared they are, the more childcares start to think about this, and they can move on to some of the other business continuity kind of questions. But this has got to be the normal way we do business. We are going to create a generation of children that can handle issues and problems, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow, that’s a good first step right there. So, the first step is then, to train the kids in disaster preparedness and what it is to be involved in a disaster and/or emergency. What’s the second step then, as far as reaching out to the local businesses?
[HEATHER BEAL] Well, this is the harder part, because when I come across, when I try to talk to local emergency management, is they get it, they think it’s important, but they look at childcare the same way that they do to nursing homes, and say: “They’ve got to come up with a plan, they’ve got to figure it out.” Because they just don’t have the resources! Like, here in Kitsap County, we have four emergency managers, that’s it. So, they don’t have the extra people to do that dedicated outreach. And we’re talking, you know, potentially thousands of childcares depending on their local area, to give a lot of family-based, as well as some in church, and the centers. So, trying to find a way to bridge that and get them involved, and enable them, give them some resources and tools that they can use. Because quite honestly, they’re not going to… a lot of them don’t have the resources, the time, or the expertise to develop a lot themselves. One interesting thing I’ll share on the same note, I’m sorry, it’s just real quick.
[TODD DEVOE] No, please.
[HEATHER BEAL] I try to speak to get certified to provide training to childcare providers. But since I didn’t have an early childhood education degree, I cannot get certified in some states, in a way that would give that childcare provider their required EEUs, for training. So, emergency management is being taught by other childcare providers.
[TODD DEVOE] I know we have a lot more to discuss on this, and we’re coming close to the end of our time together. Let’s put this on hold for a minute, and I want to come back to you maybe in a couple of months here, and I wanna see how we do, re-do this conversation then, see if we can get some movement with getting people to prepare the daycare centers and those childcare centers.
[HEATHER BEAL] I’d love to come back and discuss it more.
[TODD DEVOE] So, that being said, how do we get people that are listening to this podcast to get in contact with you regarding these issues? Because this is important, and I think you just turned me into somebody that’s going to start looking for some stuff and being an evangelist on this topic. How do we get people to get in contact with you if they want to start reaching out to their programs as emergency managers, how can we get in touch with you to get more information to share with our childcare and daycare center?
[HEATHER BEAL] Thanks. So, there are two websites that can be used to contact me. My non-profit is called BLOCKS. It stands to Building Links between Offices in emergency management Childcare and the Community for Kid’s Safety. Blocsusa.org is the URL. I can also be reached via the contact on trainforsafety.com, and that’s the number four (inaudible). Either one of those will get forwarded up to me. There’s a wealth of information about childcare preparedness and BLOCK, and there’s an information about a publication on the train for safety side, that are available to help prepare childcare aged children about disaster.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome. And I’ll put that information down in the show notes, so if you didn’t have a pencil, you can just look down and the links will be there so you can click on to them. And I have visited the book websites, and they’re really beautifully done, and there’s a lot of great information on there, I’ll use that resource more. And one last question for you. Outside of all your books for kids, what publication would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about this topic?
[HEATHER BEAL] Books out there about children and disaster, there’s not a whole lot of them. There are a few books, one I’ve been reading, actually, is a summary of the conference, called “Preparedness, Response, Recovery, Considerations for Children and Families.” It’s a workshop summary, looking specifically at how things went through hurricane Sandy, and “Managing Children in Disasters” by Bullock, Haddow, and Coppola. It’s also a good introduction to some of the basic issues that we need to think about.
[TODD DEVOE] All right, awesome. Thank you so much for the information that you shared with us today, and we’ll definitely be talking to you more in the future regarding this topic and more. Good luck with your book sales, and again, we’ll put all the information down on the show notes. Everybody out there, thank you for listening to this podcast, and again, reach out to Heather if you have any questions. If you have any questions to me, you can reach me at Ask Todd at EMWeekly.com. And also, look down at your iTunes, if you can give us some positive feedback on iTunes, that would be great as well. So again, thank you for listening to EM Weekly.
LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/heather-beal-aem