Emergency Preparedness is Key to Safer Travel

The approach of spring means vacation time for many families. While we at SEC hope the biggest struggle of your vacation is deciding what restaurant to go to for dinner, it is also important to always be prepared for the possibility of an emergency. Emergency preparedness takes little time out of your vacation, and in the event of an emergency could be your key to staying safe and secure.  Let us explain why:

When an emergency actually does occur (keep in mind while on vacation this could be anything from a robbery to a natural disaster, a shooting, an allergic reaction, a fire, etc.), your body has a three-step reaction:

  1. Sense Danger
  2. Evaluate Response Options
  3. Commit to Action

The quicker you move through this process, the more successful you will be at getting yourself and your family to safety. Seems easy enough, but your brain can put up natural roadblocks along the way that can affect your response. Here is how you can master each step:


Sensing Danger

We fail to sense danger when we are in denial or when we fall victim to the normalcy bias – that is explaining away any signs of danger as something more typically found in your life. Take the January Fort Lauderdale airport shooting for example. When travelers first heard shots, many were confused and mistakenly mistook the sound for fireworks or something falling. People weren’t expecting to hear gunshots so it took people a longer time to sense the danger.

When you are on vacation, you need to believe any emergency can happen. Do your research to understand what potential dangers might be common in the area where you are traveling. The US State Department provides information about what to be cautious of when traveling to specific international countries. Below, we have listed resources that might be of assistance to you. If you are already in the mindset that danger is possible, you will be much more likely to sense danger. Be alert and trust your gut if something feels wrong – your body may be subconsciously picking up on tiny signals that can alert you to potential danger.


Evaluating Response Options

Once you have sensed and concluded that there is danger, it can be overwhelming to evaluate response options. You may freeze, wasting precious time. When the people at the Fort Lauderdale shooting realized what was happening, many of them fell to the floor, instead of heading for the multiple nearby exits.

Fortunately, you can prepare for Step 2 by considering possible emergencies and formulating plans ahead of time. We call this considering your “Pre-Emergency Response Options.” This means, for example, listening to the flight attendants when they give their pre-flight safety talk. It means reading the sign posted on the back of a hotel room door to learn the fire escape routes. It means taking a glance around the restaurant when you are first seated at your table to check for the nearest exits. These things take 30-seconds to two minutes and, in the heat of an emergency, you will be glad you have already put time into considering an emergency response plan.


Committing to Action

If you are emotionally prepared to accept that an emergency is possible, and logistically prepared with potential response options, committing to action in Step 3 will be easier and faster. Once you decide on a plan of action, execute this plan with confidence and commitment.

SEC wishes you safe travels on your upcoming holidays and hope you will rest easier knowing that if something does happen, you will be prepared.

Start your research any time by learning about your destination. Here are some resources you can use to understand and prepare for risks while traveling:

State Department Country Information

Enroll in STEP when travelling abroad for travel alerts and warnings

TSA Safety Tips and Warnings

Weather Information

How to Pick the Safest Child Care Provider

One of the most important decisions parents will ever make is choosing a child care provider. After all, if your kids can’t be with you, you owe it to them – and to yourself – to choose a safe, secure, loving, engaging and encouraging environment.

Note that “safe” and “secure” come first in our list of criteria – and they should in yours, too. But all too often, parents focus on other factors such as location, convenience, hours and costs. While these are important factors, parents are not asking enough questions when it comes to safety and security.

Don’t know where to start? These eight questions should help you as you begin to select the safest child care provider:

  • How do you access the center? This is the most basic of questions – and one of the most telling. The best methods involve some sort of individual code or biometric, such as a fingerprint. While some centers do have a coded entry, parents don’t realize that everyone has the same code – even parents who have not had a child attending for years.
  • What is the emergency plan? May I see it? You want to make sure the center has taken some steps to actually do some preparation. Most centers do have an emergency plan, but many times they can’t even find it. Even the step of asking for it allows you to see what their level of preparation is like.
  • How secure are the classrooms? When you are touring, pay attention to the classroom doors. Do they lock? If not, are they able to be barricaded? Many child cares don’t have the ability to lock or barricade classroom doors, which puts children and the teachers at risk if an intruder comes in.
  • What are your emergency supplies? Where are they located? A first aid kit is the beginning – but it’s not enough. SEC kits include food, water, face masks in the event of a chemical attack, air horns, whistles, traffic-crossing vests, evacuation ropes with handholds, a portable toilet, pediatric tourniquet and more.
  • What kind of training do you provide? How often? By whom? A lot of child cares tout security, but what they are really touting is security cameras that no one is watching. Instead, make sure to ask about CPR, first aid and fire training, as well as training for other emergencies. Be sure to ask who does the training – and make sure it is someone with the right experience.
  • Have you had any violations? All child care centers must be licensed by the state where they operate. Checking the state’s licensing records to see if the center has had any violations – and, if so, how many violations and for what types of incidents?
  • Do you have an AED? While automatic external defibrillators are increasingly common at elementary and high schools, not many child cares have invested in them. A center should have an adult version of the AED, which will automatically adjust the voltage based on the weight.
  • Why isn’t the center full? You might think it’s your lucky day to find a center with immediately open spots. But you should ask probing questions if a center is not full. You will be better off on a waiting list at a qualified center than in a troubled center that has immediate openings.

Safety is not something you should ever compromise on. You would not take your child to a quack just because you couldn’t get a quick appointment with your pediatrician. A child care provider not focused on safety is a ticking time bomb. Don’t rush to make an unsafe choice.

Seven Deadly Domestic Hazards

You walk through the front door, juggling grocery bags, your purse and toddler. You barely have the door closed when the phone rings; you quickly put everything down and scramble to answer it. While you’re distracted you didn’t noticed your son digging into your purse and popping the blood pressure pills that look just like candy.

That single moment could turn into your worst nightmare.

Yet we all get distracted — and we all assume that home is the safest place for our families, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Statistically, it is more likely for children to be injured at home than anywhere else.

But that doesn’t need to be the case. With a little extra precaution, it can be home-sweet-home for you and your kids. Here are seven common hazards that parents should take steps to prevent:

Choking: Food that isn’t cut into age-appropriate bites for babies and children is a prime hazard. But so are other household items, such as electrical cords, balloons or items from mom’s purse. Remove any temptations by picking them up or placing them out of sight and out of reach. Learn basic first aid practices ways to alleviate choking in case of an emergency.

Falling:  A child’s fearlessness can be terrifying for parents. It’s important to utilize safeguards like safety gates or adding soft surfaces underneath play equipment to avoid injury. It’s a balancing act to teach your kids about their mobility limitations without cocooning them in bubble wrap. Prime targets for falls include: shopping carts, slides, countertops, household furniture and shelving.

Poisoning: Kids are curious; anything used by a parent intrigues them. Whether you’re scrubbing the tub, washing the windows or using perfume, they want to do it, too. Make sure to lock up the cabinets that house the colorful laundry soap pods, any cleaning agents, perfumes or hand sanitizers. Take this moment and finally save the Poison Control Center’s number into your phone, 1.800.222.1222.

Drowning: Children love playing in the water, whether it’s in the bathtub, your dog’s water dish or in an unattended bucket. Water is an attractive nuisance when kids are around. Should a child fall into the bucket or be left unattended in the tub, it can take only five to ten seconds for them to drown. Avoid the risk and never leave them alone and be sure to empty any buckets after use.

Burns: Items a parent drink,holds or touches are the very items your child wants desperately. They want to mimic mom and dad. To the best of your abilities, keep hot cups of coffee or tea and dangling cords from curling or flat irons out of sight and out of reach. Make it common practice to use the back burners on your stove to protect your little one from accidentally reaching up to grab a pot handle or touching a scalding hot surface.

Home appliances: Limit access to potential threats with the use of safety gates as well as keeping appliances closed so that your child doesn’t accidently get trapped and suffocate. Prime areas of concern include washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. Close the dishwasher every time. Leaving the door down leaves sharp utensils, like knives and forks, exposed. Remove stovetop knobs or keep children out of the kitchen to avoid them accidently turning on the gas, which could lead to a possible fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Take away the car keys. Should your child accidentally use the remote start in a closed garage, it’s a prime candidate for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Exercise equipment: Unplug and secure exercise equipment whenever not in use. Children left unattended on treadmills may not just fall but could be strangled by a dangling cord. Stationary bikes and free weights left out often lead to stuck, smashed or pinched fingers.

SEC on Wood TV8

“We’re bringing that expertise that we’ve performed not only in the United States but all over the world and bringing it to schools:” SEC founder CEO Jason Russell has assembled a team of former Secret Service agents to provide presidential-level security to child care centers, schools, businesses and other organizations. He talked with WOOD TV8 tonight about security measures.

Check out the full interview at http://woodtv.com/2016/12/01/former-secret-service-agents-check-local-school-security/ 

A New Year’s Resolution for the Whole Family

As we prepare to close out 2016 and welcome a new year, I want to suggest a resolution that will benefit your whole family: Create a family emergency plan.

All families should have an emergency plan that they practice regularly. A basic plan should include everyday occurrences, such as answering the door or telephone when children are home alone. It should also cover common occurrences, such as fire, and cover issues from checking smoke detectors regularly to having children understand the sound they make to practicing what to do when a smoke alarm sounds to designating a meeting spot for the family will gather safely.

Finally, a plan should have contingencies for more significant emergencies, such as a tornado or flood where the family might be separated for some time. In either instance, set up safe shelter spots and establish an out-of-town contact that everyone in the family knows to call and check in with – which will help parents know their children are alright if they are unable to reach them immediately.

Developing an emergency plan in advance of actually needing one can help take the fear out of a situation for children. Instilling an overall mindset of preparedness is a gift that will last them – and you – a lifetime.

Preparedness helps parents and kids develop mental scripting. For example, when something bad happens, your brain looks for a “script” to see if or how you have dealt with a similar situation in the past. When you talk about or practice an emergency response with your kids, you are putting a script in your brains that you can go back to should that situation arise. Absent that script, we all default to the responses that are hardwired in us: Fright, flight or freeze, all of which could be deadly in an emergency.

So where do you starting building a family emergency plan?

  • Understand your risk: Start with Homefacts.com to learn about your neighborhood. Plugging in your zip code will give you a treasure trove of information about where you live, from the number of registered sex offenders to the most common natural disasters. You can tailor your emergency plan to the most likely risk based on where you live.
  • Know your resources: Almost every county in the United States will have an emergency manager who can provide additional resources for you to assess – and respond to – risks, whether they are floods, tornadoes or wildfires. If your county offers Smart911®, spend 30 minutes and sign up for the free and confidential service, which will aid first responders should you ever need to call for help.
  • Develop a communication plan: Since you may not all be together when an emergency happens, it’s vital to think through how you will communicate in advance. The federal government has a detailed site, ready.gov that offers forms to be downloaded that include out-of-town contacts, spots for you and your children’s dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical information, neighbors and a list of the common addresses where you live, work, go to school or regularly travel. It also includes templates for cards that should be given to all family members and carried in wallets, purses or book bags.
  • Assemble an emergency kit: It’s wise to put together an emergency kit that will include your communications plan, nonperishable food, bottled water, basic first aid supplies and other useful equipment. Be sure to add a flashlight, batteries, can opener, duct tape, pocket knife, whistle to signal for help, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, local maps and cell phone charger. A detailed list can be found on ready.gov/kit.
  • Determine an escape route, shelters: Getting out of harm’s way is critical. Be sure to walk through your home or apartment and develop a list of safe evacuation routes – other than the front door. It’s equally as important to have safe gathering spots for your family once you exit. Develop a list of appropriate shelter locations and practice with your kids on how to get there.
  • Practice: Once you establish your plan in writing, review it as a family at least twice a year. Each spring and fall, my family goes through our emergency plan, talking with our kids about how to handle different in-home safety situations. Parents who are calm, confident and prepared in an emergency situation will help greatly reduce any fear that children may have when the unexpected happens.


Emergency Preparedness in School



Our founder and CEO, Jason Russell, talked with Accredited Schools Online for a comprehensive article on emergency preparedness in the face of natural or manmade disasters. Lots of great tips.


‘Tis the Season: PPOs, Custody Orders and the Holidays

As we approach the holidays, visions of turkey and presents and family gatherings all float temptingly in our brains. After all, the last six weeks of the year are all about togetherness, right?

Not necessarily. Separation and divorce can be the exception to that long-held family rule, particularly at this time of the year. Emotions are heightened as we approach the holidays, which carry with them the expectations of shared parenting – and shared schedules.

Parents going through their first set of holidays apart can find themselves in unfamiliar space, jockeying for time with their kids and trying to manage competing schedules. As the acrimony level rises, patience can decline and tempers can flare.

This can be a bad recipe for childcare providers, whose first – and primary responsibility – is to ensure a safe environment for the children in their care. We always see an uptick in bad behavior and schedule struggles at this time of year for our childcare clients and wanted to share some tips that will make November and December easier:

  • Ensure the custody order in place is enforced. We tell our clients never to go on faith and to request a copy of the court order so they can have it on file. Then stick to that order – no exceptions. This eliminates the need for daycare staff to make judgment calls and takes subjectivity out of the equation.
  • Communicate adjustments to the classroom. It’s not enough for the administrative office to understand the custody arrangements. This needs to be communicated to the classroom teachers and aides to ensure they know who can – and who cannot – pick up a child.
  • Enforce PPOs consistently. Personal protection orders can be used like sticks and carrots, punishing bad behavior and rewarding good. We see this often where a mom has taken a PPO order out against a dad, then comes in to tell the office, “He’s been better, it’s OK for him to pick up our child.” This puts the daycare team in the position of being a judge and can create serious liability and safety issues. It’s always best to stick to the order. If a parent pushes back, encourage them to go to court and get it amended.
  • Be ready for events. Year-end can mean a spate of classroom parties, plays and performances that require both parents to appear in the same space at the same time. This can increase the likelihood of volatility and create potentially dangerous situations. We teach de-escalation strategies to our clients so they are equipped to remain calm during parental fireworks and quickly and safely calm all parties.

A Lesson from South Carolina: The Importance of Safety Drills

All eyes were on South Carolina for a few hours on Wednesday as the first words of another school shooting spread across the Internet. But attention quickly faded as details became clear: two children and a teacher wounded, the teenage subject already in custody.

That the incident didn’t linger longer on the national stage is a sad testament to how routine school shootings have become. If there are not “enough” deaths, news like the shooting at Townville Elementary barely makes a blip on our collective radar.

But we can all learn a lot from the teachers, administrators and first responders in that small South Carolina town, who acted quickly and selflessly to protect students and subdue the shooter, who had allegedly shot and killed his father just prior to crashing a pickup truck through the fence outside the school.

Some media reports mentioned that the school had practiced safety drills, but the mention was glossed over. Their advance preparation enabled them to respond appropriately to the incident – and once again underscored the twin mandates of having a plan and then practicing.

The difference in this incident, though, was that the shooter struck outside the school. The playground is a much different situation than the classroom – or a football field or an assembly. We tell our clients that it’s important to think through all the situations where students and teachers gather and prepare to deal with those scenarios.

It’s critical to understand the options available in an active shooter situation like Townville Elementary faced. There are three:

  • Secure: Get behind a locked door or some other type of cover or concealment
  • Evacuate: Get away from the area as quickly as possible
  • Confront: Challenge the threat directly

In the case of Townville Elementary, teachers performed a reverse evacuation, getting students inside as quickly as possible. The volunteer firefighter tackled and restrained the shooter before he could follow everyone indoors.

Training and muscle memory clearly kicked in for both the teachers and the first responders, who quickly assessed the situation and chose the best options available to them. Had they not done so, it’s possible the situation would have escalated – and the headlines with Townville Elementary would continue to haunt us for days.

Rethinking Lockdown: Age-Appropriate Safety Drills

Back to school means new crayons, new backpacks, new teachers, new friends – and new safety drills.

Fire drills have long been a fact of life in our schools. In fact, I dare you to find an elementary classroom where the kids can’t finish this set of commands: Stop. Drop.

Of course the answer is Roll – and of course, that’s what we teach children to do in the event of a fire. Each month, from kindergarten to high school, teachers routinely conduct fire drills. They are engrained in our culture – we conduct fire drills and there’s no fear associated with them.

The same can’t be said of safety drills, though. Increasingly, we are seeing a pushback from schools, teachers and parents who object to practice for sheltering in place or lockdowns. The disparity in response is puzzling – fire can kill as much as gunfire, yet we see a visceral fear when it comes to safety drills that just isn’t there for fire drills.

We are strong advocates for age-appropriate safety drills. It’s less important for kids, particularly younger kids, to understand why they are practicing certain movements than to understand the movements themselves. It’s a case of stimulus-response: When you hear this noise, it means we have to move to this area and be quiet – just as when you hear the fire alarm, it means you have to line up and exit the classroom and then the school quickly and quietly.

When younger kids ask why we are doing a particular drill, it’s OK to be general. We have found it works to tell them that there are some emergencies where to be safe, we have to leave the building – but other times, we have to stay inside to be safe. Framing it as practicing being safe within the classroom is a non-scary way to broach the subject.

Of course, the answer is age dependent. High schoolers will know – and likely have less anxiety over – the reason behind the drills. Even middle schoolers may have some concept of the reasons behind a drill.

For younger children, though, such as daycare, kindergarten and early elementary, safety drills are more designed for teachers to practice and understand the spacing issues. Do all the kids fit in this area? How quickly can I get the door locked?

We recommend that schools practice safety drills at least twice a year. These should consist of:

  • Establishing a simple alert: Schools could use the public address system, but they need to have a back-up of some type, such as an air horn, verbal alert or something that can’t be easily defeated by a technology fail. When it comes to alert, two is one and one is none, so be sure to have a backup.
  •  Recognizing the safe areas of the classroom: We helps schools identify this during the site assessment. They want to pick spots away from doors, our of the line of site from windows and preferably behind a locked or secured door.
  • Understanding what you can physically do: The capabilities of the school will determine the protocol, so it’s critical to understand what the building will and will not do. It’s not enough to say that you have to lock or barricade the door to a classroom – some classroom doors have no locks while others open from the outside. A site assessment will allow teachers to identify the protocol that works best with their facility.

Approaching safety drills in an age-appropriate way ensures students practice the movements they need to respond quickly in a crisis, giving both parents and teachers added peace of mind.

Situational awareness, not “stranger danger” is the best strategy for keeping kids safe

Situational awareness, not “stranger danger” is the best strategy for keeping kids safe

The concept of “stranger danger” is a common one for parents to employ when trying to ensure their children are safe.

But that practice is limiting and doesn’t take into account a key factor: If harm is done to a child, it is more likely to be by someone known to the family, and sometimes someone who is trusted.

I know this doesn’t fit the common narrative in our society, but the fact is that predators, particularly sexual predators, tend to be people who are friends or acquaintances. Actual abductions by strangers are rare.

What’s more, there are plenty of times strangers can be helpful to children, such as police officers in uniform or staff members at a zoo if a child is lost.

So what I advocate is situational awareness for children. This approach helps instill in children the need for them to be aware without shifting to paranoia. Children need to be reassured that they are going to be protected but they also need to be empowered to be part of that protection.

It is a good idea to help our children understand their surroundings and what is acceptable in terms of adult behavior.

Emphasize to your children that they can say “no” to an adult when they are uncomfortable or when an adult is trying to force them to do something they know is wrong. Adults never need to ask a child for help. If an adult asks a child for help finding a puppy turn and run away.

Prepare your child for the worst case scenario: If someone tries to grab them, do everything possible – bite, kick, scream, make noise and run as fast as they can – to get away or get attention.

There are practical ways to prepare your child to be aware of surroundings. For one, play memorization games with them to help them pay attention, such as asking what color was the car next to us in the parking lot, or the color of someone’s hair while we were standing in line. It’s a fun way to get their minds focused on awareness. I now find my kids noticing things I didn’t.

Teach kids to introduce themselves to people, look someone in the eye and say their name at least loudly enough to be heard. Why? It shows attention and an appropriate amount of assertiveness. Research shows that offenders tend to choose victims who exhibit victim behavior – not paying attention, head down, walking with no purpose.

Lastly, I want to share a caution with parents about Facebook. It is so tempting to share happy moments but be aware of how information can be used. If you put a picture of your daughter on Facebook wishing her a happy birthday by name, that is all information that can be used to try to entice a child. Limit the information you use and, most importantly, use privacy settings.

While we don’t want to induce paranoia, we want to encourage common sense and paying attention to surroundings as sure ways for parents and children to feel secure.