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.