Disaster Preparedness Among Colorado Childcare Centers and Home-Based Providers

By Sara Gill, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology; Research Assistant, Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, Colorado State University and Lori Peek, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Co-Director, Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, Colorado State University  

Children are among the most vulnerable populations in disaster and infants and very young children are at especially high risk of physical injury and death. Children age five and under make up about 8% of the total U.S. population. In Colorado, where we both live and conduct research on children and disasters, there are about 340,000 children age five and under throughout the state. Estimates suggest that over half of these young children are in childcare settings on any given weekday.

Professional childcare providers are vital members of  many  children’s  adult  network.  Yet,  while  a  growing number of studies have explored children’s  reactions to natural disasters, information about how childcare providers prepare for and help children and families cope with disaster situations is sparse. What we do know is that in Colorado, the state’s  childcare center program requirements and oversights currently rank 43rd in the nation (NACCRRA 2009). This is concerning in light of Colorado’s  regular  experience  with  both  smaller- and larger-scale disaster events.


Map of Colorado childcare centers in relation to total number of historical hazards events.

In this brief article, we describe the early stages of an ongoing research project, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Division, Region VIII, which focuses on all-hazards preparedness in childcare centers and in-home childcare settings across Colorado. This is the first statewide assessment of its kind. According to the Division of Childcare, Colorado Department of Human Services, there are approximately 4,700 licensed childcare providers in the state; this estimate includes 2,000 centers and 2,700 home- based settings. After eliminating cases with no e-mail addresses and duplicate or non-working e- mails, we e-mailed an online survey to a final sample population of 4,613 licensed providers. Of that sample, 735 complete responses were received which resulted in a response rate of 15.9%. Over 87% of counties in Colorado, including the top five most populous counties, were represented in the study.

We developed the survey, which was administered in the spring of 2014, using the Ready, Willing, and Able framework for disaster preparedness. This framework helped us to design a multi-faceted instrument meant to tap into multiple preparedness constructs. We asked childcare directors and supervisors to provide information on their prior disaster experience, if any; the availability of preparedness plans, by hazard type; and the occurrence and frequency of drills, training, and other disaster education activities for children, families and staff. We also asked the respondent to inventory their current stock of disaster preparedness supplies and to share their experience regarding disaster communication and support from community members and emergency personnel. The survey also included a number of items where we asked the respondent to assess personal and professional levels of preparedness as well as needs and barriers for improved disaster readiness. Some key findings from early analyses include the following:

  •  42% of providers have experienced a disaster at their current childcare setting
  •  93% of providers have a disaster preparedness plan; 35% of those plans cover all hazards
  •  98% of providers conduct drills on a regular basis (mostly fire drills, but other types of drills as well)
  •  95% of providers have a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and parent contact information readily available
  •  83% of providers have NO budget for disaster preparedness activities
  •  81% of providers provide disaster information to children and 83% provide information to parents

In the survey, we also asked the childcare providers about the barriers they face to disaster preparedness. The figure below shows the most prevalent responses:


The preliminary results of the survey were shared in a FEMA-sponsored statewide summit that brought together childcare providers, disaster preparedness experts, university researchers, representatives from local, state, and federal emergency management agencies, and others with an interest in helping those  who  care  for  Colorado’s  youngest  children  become more disaster ready. Attendees participated in an interactive workshop to discuss recommendations and best practices for improving childcare preparedness.

Further analyses of the survey data is ongoing and will be presented in a master’s thesis that will help  identify strengths and gaps as well as help inform policy and future efforts in terms of disaster preparedness among childcare providers. The larger project team has already produced one technical report, which assesses the location and demographic composition of Colorado childcare centers in relations to their prior hazards experience

For more information on this project, please visit:

http://disaster.colostate.edu/childcare-preparedness- in-colorado.aspx

Or contact:  Sara Gill, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, Research Assistant, Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, Colorado State University Sara.Gill@colostate.edu

Lori Peek, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Co-Director, Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, Colorado State University Lori.Peek@colostate.edu