Anticipation Often Key to Handling Summer’s Extremes at Care Centers

From searing heat to powerful storms to dangerous insects, summer’s extremes present a number of challenges for child care center workers as they manage safety.

Already this summer many across the country have dealt with oppressive heat, damaging storms and devastating wildfires. When evaluating how you will respond to these situations, it is important to keep in mind the unique characteristics of how children react to issues such as heat and multiple bee stings, as well as your own building and geography and climate.

Little kids, especially, are susceptible to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. They may say they are not thirsty but that is not always a good indicator of whether they are suffering from the effects of heat. It is important to keep them – and everyone under your care — consistently hydrated.

As far as outside exposure in the heat, licensing requirements often delineate how much shade a facility must offer and the temperature threshold at which children need to stay inside. But you need to make your own common sense judgments, too.

If the temperature threshold for staying inside is 100 degrees and it’s 98 degrees and very humid, making if feel much hotter, then err on the side of canceling outside playtime. There may be minimum requirements for shade, but it may make sense for your center to offer more options. And, of course, when you are outside, every kid needs plenty of sunscreen.

Speaking of playground safety, another factor to keep in mind is dangerous insects. Inspect your playground equipment and other structures as well as the ground for nests for wasps, hornets and other stinging insects. These creatures can build nests quickly so even if you (or a professional) remove one, daily checks are necessary for new or rebuilt nests.

Providers routinely prepare for known allergies to stings but what is hard to account for is the child who has never been stung and doesn’t know he or she is allergic until it happens. For that reason, it is always good to have an EpiPen on site, even if you don’t have any reported children’s allergies.

Storms, of course, present particular issues for those overseeing children. In the summer, two events that require close attention are tornadoes and torrential rain.

First, a general reminder on tornado shelter: Make sure the designated spaces are below grade or interior rooms without large ceiling spans that are more prone to collapse.

Keep in mind that the right place for sheltering from a tornado might not be the same place for another event such as a chemical release. Also, a key point: Make sure the shelter area is one where the kids can actually fit. I have encountered circumstances where the chosen shelter is not large enough to fit everyone. As always, preparation and anticipation ensures a smoother reaction when a crisis hits.

Anticipation also is necessary for the potential of flash flooding. First and foremost, if extreme rainfall is predicted and you know your area is susceptible to flooding, consider a pre-emptive release of kids.

Of course, weather is unpredictable so you also need to have a plan if flash flooding occurs. Sometimes a deluge can literally trap you in your building. As part of your emergency planning, identify the highest areas possible for safely sheltering everyone.

Another natural threat to account for is wildfires. Again, you can do some research online or through other safety entities to find out how prone your area is to wildfires so you can configure your emergency planning accordingly.

If a wildfire does threaten your facility, evacuation plans are specific to the characteristics of the wildfire – namely, try to evacuate upwind of the fire and onto a concrete slab or sidewalk. Why do we recommend a concrete area when we might tell you to evacuate to a grassy area for a building fire? That is because a wildfire’s path is dictated by wind direction and fuel, and its fuel is grass and brush.

The key takeaway from dealing with summer’s extremes is to prepare for what this season can throw at you. While there is an unpredictable nature to many events, there also are many opportunities to predict and prepare to help you ensure a safe environment for children and staff members.

Op-Ed: Building Safety Standards Must Take on Same Significance as Fire Codes

Just this month, we have again watched the disturbing images of innocent people dealing with the trauma of an active shooter situation.

The terrible events in Orlando remind us once again of the current realities in our society. And another shooting incident earlier this month on the UCLA campus reminded me, as a law enforcement and security expert, how much more progress we need to make to properly prepare for these situations.

In the UCLA incident, students and staff members used any objects they could find – desks, chairs, belts – in makeshift attempts to barricade themselves in rooms with doors that do not lock.

It is distressing that those trying to get out of harm’s way were left to try to jury-rig barricades in an active shooter situation. That is not reflective of the world we live in given what happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and now Orlando.

I believe strongly that we need to adjust our thinking on security planning so that we are addressing a 21st Century problem with 21st Century know-how and safety features. The time has come to establish building safety standards, backed up by law enforcement inspections, much in the same way we now mandate fire codes and inspections.

The UCLA situation points to a fundamental problem with many emergency plans at schools and other public buildings and institutions – the procedures often do not fit the building’s features.

We regularly see security preparations that call for a lockdown in the event of an active shooter. But the daycare, school or office is often filled with doors that do not lock – just as we saw in those UCLA classrooms. During a threat, it does you no good to have a plan that calls for locking doors when those features do not exist. A threat is not the time to find out the safety plan and safety features do not match.

Security plans must take into account how a building is configured. For instance, if doors don’t lock and open out – some of which we saw at UCLA – then experts need to devise a plan that takes those features into account. Security experts can work around the nuances of a building but the situation needs an honest assessment.

We also increasingly find that considerations for fire prevention and safety are often at odds with considerations for security. In the simplest terms, during a fire, officials want people to get out. During a threat, though, those in law enforcement often want you to stay in place.

Make no mistake, our fellow public safety colleagues in fire departments have done a superb job instituting safety features into public buildings and imprinting fire safety onto our collective psyches. If you’re in a building the fire prevention features are apparent everywhere – fire extinguishers, illuminated “exit signs” and sprinkler systems are just a few examples.

But the time has come for us to put as much thought and practice into security measures for an active shooter as we have for fire risks. We need to address an issue that is part of our lives today and statistically presents more of a risk than other threats, including fires.

If you think about it, fire codes have evolved through the decades to address changing times and safety needs to the point where we have the effectiveness we see today. Security plans are lagging and need to follow suit to catch up with the times. We must find a way to ensure fire codes can co-exist with modern-day security needs.

That starts with adjusting our thinking on active shooter preparations to ensure we aren’t thwarted by the very mechanisms that are supposed to protect us. We need strong standards and good law enforcement oversight for safe buildings. In 2016, we can’t have traumatized people trying to come up with barricades on the fly because they can’t protect themselves from a shooter.

We owe it to our children and to ourselves to make sure proper security measures and a plan are as prevalent as fire extinguishers.

About Jason Russell: Jason Russell is the founder, president and CEO for Secure Education Consultants, a Michigan-based firm that specializes in security plans for schools, child care facilities and businesses across the country. Russell is a former special agent for the U.S. Secret Service, where he worked on protective and investigative assignments, as well as protecting the current president and vice president and former presidents. He leads a team of former Secret Service agents who help clients with security assessments and emergency plans. He can be reached at

Orlando Shooting

Jason Russell, president and founder of Secure Education Consultants, joins WZZM 13 to discuss the mass shooting in Orlando.  Watch the interview on

Field Trip Safety: Take Your Emergency Plans on the Road

For child care centers, summer is a busy time of year for field trips. Most days there are off-site activities planned, whether it’s a trip to a park, petting zoo or nature center.

When you are taking children off site, it’s important to remember that you need a plan to minimize risks and hazards that addresses the circumstances you are facing outside the school environment.

Think of it as a portable emergency plan.

While there are a number of considerations to ensuring your charges are safe, much of the preparedness comes in three areas: Response to emergencies, being ready for children’s needs and keeping track of everyone.


Response to emergencies:

 A key part of any facility plan is having in place strategies in case of inclement weather. But what will you do if there is a threat of bad weather – or worse, a storm hits while you are at the park or zoo?

You can’t create a response on the fly, particularly since you are outside your environment and often have a number of children for whom you must account. Before you take a field trip, study where you are going and then find suitable evacuation locations – just in case. We recommend finding a nearby fire station, police station or emergency rooms.

It’s not enough to have an idea of where you might go. Determine the navigation ahead of time and have it ready in case you need to evacuate. And don’t forget to have cell phone chargers on hand so that phones are available for quickly retrieving information and calling supervisors or parents as necessary.

Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before venturing out. If storms or other extreme weather are likely, it makes sense to modify plans rather than risk a potentially scary situation for your group.


Being ready for children’s needs

Some needs are universal for children: Ensure sunscreen and insect repellant are available. Take extra clothes along in case they are needed – such as if there is a sudden turn in weather or kids’ clothes get wet or soiled, as well as water and snacks.

Also, be sure emergency supplies are on hand, which applies to staff members and the vehicle. And ensure emergency medical authorizations are available for students and emergency contacts for parents are updated and with you.

While these are general precautions, some children have specific needs and you must account for them. Ensure that you have every child’s medication, be it insulin or an EpiPen. The latter is especially important in the summer with more outdoor activities and an increased chance of bee stings and the like. Be sure to have a way to keep those medications cool and secure so that kids are safe.


Keeping track of everyone

This is as daunting as it is crucial when on a field trip.

Take a headcount at the beginning of the trip and share with staff members. Once there, count again. And again. And again. You need to count continuously throughout the trip and then do a double count at departure so you don’t leave anyone behind. It doesn’t take much of an online search to find news stories about children left behind on field trips – and very angry parents waiting for them to return.

Also, be sure you aren’t just counting heads but that you are actually matching up names and faces (and have digital photos of each child). Kids wander, and you could have the wrong kid wander into your group while one of yours is elsewhere.

Use the “buddy system” to assign kids in pairings of two to maintain accountability. Consider using tags or common-colored shirts to help keep the group together – but don’t use names. Have staff members in front of and in back of the group while it’s moving.

Select an easily identifiable meeting spot in case a student or staff members gets lost. If possible, point out to children what a worker at a location is wearing and who is a safe person to approach.

Above all else, make sure everyone is clearly communicating on these trips. Supervisors need to know itineraries. If there are chaperones, communicate expectations clearly with them and make sure you have a way to reach them at all times in case one goes rogue and wanders off with kids – which happens more than you think.

And lastly, be sure to talk ahead of time to the children about expectations, rules and the importance of safety. In the end, adhering to all of these practices ensures you can provide what these are meant to provide: fun, education and great memories.

Lockdown vs. Sheltering in Place

Authorities have different expectations when they tell people to initiate a lockdown versus sheltering in place

A Lockdown is Not the Same as Sheltering in Place — and the Difference Matters During a Public Safety Threat 

Very often when you hear of a public safety threat like the one this week on Capitol Hill, the terms “lockdown” and “shelter in place” are used interchangeably in media reports or other announcements.

At one point during the live coverage, a television network had both terms on the screen at the same time.

However, the terms have very different meanings when it comes to a public safety response, based on the nature of the threat. Using them incorrectly can unintentionally send a very different message to family and friends waiting word after a natural disaster or mass shooting.

If the threat is not from a human – think a tornado or a large chemical spill – then people in harm’s way are told to “shelter in place.” That means find safety within the structure to minimize exposure to the external problem.

If the threat has a human component, and is potentially violent, authorities will issue a “lockdown,” meaning those in harm’s way need to look for cover and concealment.

We need to find a way to make these terms part of our common language. While the media are often the main culprit when it comes to incorrectly using these terms, you also see the organizations that are affected also using the wrong terms.

It isn’t just a matter of semantics. The two terms mean very different things to responding law enforcement and how they want people to seek safety.

Also, consider this: If you are a parent and you hear your school is under a lockdown when in fact those inside are sheltering in place because of a storm, your expectations – and panic – are likely at a different level. Or vice versa.

For these reasons, we are very clear about the differences when training organizations, so they correctly describe and carry out a threat response.

We take our training further and delineate in our plans four primary protocols:

  • Lockout: You see this in such situations as an armed robber on the loose in the area near your building, and you need to secure the perimeter. You lock out exterior entries since the situation has not yet reached you.
  • Lockdown: The threat is imminent or inside the building, and you need to focus on cover and concealment.
  • Shelter-in-place: Again, this is for a non-human threat, such as issuance of a tornado warning and you need to find a safe interior area.
  • Evacuation: There is a fire or bomb threat and occupants must vacate the building.

Keeping the right responses to certain situations in mind, and describing them correctly, are key parts of dealing with a safety threat. For the most efficient safety response, it would be a great help for people – especially those who disseminate the information about threats – to ensure they are using correct and standardized language on efforts to stay out of harm’s way.

Situational Awareness

Outbreaks of violence like the deadly shooting spree in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20 make us wonder how we would have reacted – and how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.

It is a natural response.  While there are some things we can keep in mind as we go about our lives,  I must be clear about this situation: This appears to be an ambush.  It is very hard – if not impossible – to defend against an ambush, short of never going out in public – which of course is not realistic.

So how can you feel safer, especially in the aftermath of such a heinous act? For one, be ready to react if something seems out of the ordinary.

The reality is the average citizen generally goes about the day in what we in law enforcement call “condition white.” People are fairly unaware of their surroundings and have a low heart rate that matches the situation. It’s how people want to live, understandably so.

Those of us with law enforcement training tend to live our lives, even our civilian lives, in what we call “condition yellow.” It is a heightened awareness, paying attention to surroundings, recognizing something could happen at any time.

Now, probably everyone has experienced “condition yellow” on a temporary basis at some point. Think of how you feel walking alone at night, maybe to your car in a dark parking lot, or along a dark alley or street. You are likely to be looking around more, maybe have your keys out so you can quickly get in the car – or defend yourself.

We need to know when to switch from “white” to “yellow.”

If you see a stranger approaching you in a building or while you are in your vehicle, and something feels wrong, find a way to get out of that situation.

This means overcoming what we call a “normalcy bias,” which is to say that most people frame a situation to one that is acceptable to us – for instance, we hear gunshots and tell ourselves it is firecrackers, even if that doesn’t make sense.

That causes a delay in your response. And make no mistake, your body and your brain recognize when a situation is uncomfortable; if you listen to the cues, and not let the normalcy bias override them, you are better equipped to handle a situation. Trust your intuition.

And know this: In general, non-verbal communication tells you way more about a person’s intentions than what he or she is saying. People can trick you with words, but their body language tells the real story: Noticeable breathing, clenched fists, eyes darting around and other non-verbal cues are important to note.

In the event you are in a position to give eyewitness information in such a traumatic situation, it is important to take a couple of deep breaths. When your heart rate goes up, your critical thinking skills go down, so be sure to pause before taking in what you see: vehicle and suspect description, the suspect’s clothing, if at all possible a license plate number and the direction of travel.

Constant paranoia is no way to live our lives. While we need to be on guard, using some of these tips can help ease the anxiety these tragedies can produce for everyone.


Talking To Kids About Violence

Processing events such as the apparently random shooting rampage in Kalamazoo over the weekend, killing six and injuring two, is hard enough for adults.

It is even more challenging for children, who are often absorbing the same information as the adults in their lives but don’t have the context on how to react.

The key for children in any of these situations is reassuring them about the safety and protection they do have in the world while acknowledging their very understandable feelings.

Keep in mind that they are picking up information through the media and other sources, not just family.  Children who become fearful of what could happen to them or their parents tend to internalize those feelings.

Here are some approaches you can take when addressing your child’s fear, anxiety or questions:

  • Be careful not to invalidate your kids’ feelings by ignoring them or playing down what they are saying. Listen to them.
  • Reassure them that there are many people protecting them, including their parents and police officers, to make sure bad things don’t happen to them.
  • Consider limiting as much as possible your children’s exposure to media reports.

Also, you cannot discount how your reaction as an adult to tragedies such as these affects your child.

Adults feeling anxiety over mass shootings – especially in this case, an apparent ambush – can tend to make overarching statements such as, “you can’t go out in public” or “you can’t go anywhere.”

Those statements often can solidify your children’s own fears, so it pays to be careful about how you characterize your fears in front of the kids.

In many ways, what it comes down to is that kids will take their cues from their parents. Remember that your words carry weight with children, so reassuring statements will have impact. And remind yourself that our children are watching, and that how we act can affect their reaction.

Discussing Warning Signs – WKZO 590

Jason Russell, founder of Secure Education Consultants, spoke with Jay Morris and Jim McKinney of the Kalamazoo Morning News AM 590 WKZO Radio on Monday, Feb. 22.   Jason discussed the warning signs that the alleged shooter in the Feb. 20 Kalamazoo shooting rampage likely exhibited prior to the shootings. These signs could have tipped off friends or colleagues to the impending violent acts.

You can listen to the full interview below.

Keeping Kids Safe In School

SEC Founder, Jason Russell, recently sat down with Maranda from WOTV’s “Where You Live” to discuss the rise in school emergency preparedness and the steps parents can take to understand their child’s school’s training and emergency response plan.

You can watch the full interview on

Tragedy In Kalamazoo

In the wake of the mass shooting tragedy on Feb. 20th in Kalamazoo, Michigan, SEC Founder, Jason Russell, has been asked by several media outlets to share his expertise and thoughts.  Jason reiterates that while this particular incident was a seemingly random series of actions, the suspect likely exhibited warning signs that may have been missed.

Jason’s interview with 1340 WJRW can be heard online here

An interview with MYFM 106.5 can be found online at

Jason also discusses situational awareness and being a good witness with WZZM, which can be viewed on