Friday November 2, 2012

We are fortunate to live in an area where it is generally accepted that children are our future--and that we are all part of the village that it takes to raise a child. In this spirit, I was disturbed to note that in Bob Audette's carefully researched and thorough series on emergency evacuations just concluded in the Reformer, there was a serious omission: no mention or discussion of what will happen to the 500 children in 46 family- and center-based child care programs in the 10-mile evacuation area.

In Entergy's 10-mile emergency evacuation area of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Vernon these 397 children, ages infant to 5, plus another 103 after-school children up to age 12, are scattered throughout the area. Family child care programs with one adult child care educator can have up to six children, of whom no more than two can be under age two, plus four additional children after school. Center based programs can have up to ten preschool children, ages three to five, per teacher. Center programs also have one teacher for four infants. These numbers are challenging enough during an ordinary day-long program where the "crises" are of a human dimension.

But what would it be like to manage an evacuation scene? Realize that few child care programs have vehicles available to use. (Because those who do are unlikely to have adequate car seats/booster seats/restraints, the state legislature passed legislation several years ago that suspended the requirement for legal constraints in emergency situations.)

Five years back, Windham Child Care Association and the regional Emergency Management team under John Angil, studied the situation and began to develop plans for evacuating this vulnerable population. One can only begin to imagine the log-jams that would be caused by working parents rushing from work to pick up their young ones before pursuing family evacuation plans.

The plans aren't perfect but they are the best that can be managed right now. They call for buses to make the rounds of programs, and then head to Bellows Falls where the children will be reassigned to safe shelters. When a new program is registered with the state, the provider is asked to contact their emergency management person, who makes a visit to the site when possible and/or if the provider desires; radios are given free of charge to all providers in the 10-mile area. Providers also contact the Health Department, which provides potassium iodide (parents must give permission for its use.) Providers receive thorough instructions on how to proceed in an emergency evacuation. Windham Child Care Association also connects with providers annually to answer questions and provide information.

John Angil has just told me that for the past six to eight months the state has failed to provide his office with updates on new programs. Why this is, I do not know, but it should be a red flag for parents. Parents concerned about the well-being of their children are urged to contact their town emergency management persons to be sure that their children's programs are on the list for those to be evacuated in cases of emergency.

Young children in programs located outside the 10-mile emergency evacuation area do not come under the Brattleboro regional plans but would be equally at risk in case of an emergency. Parents of children in early childhood programs in Putney, Westminster, Bellows Falls, Halifax and other towns are encouraged to discuss the issue with their providers. Nurturing all our children and keeping them safe is our common responsibility.

Elizabeth Christie is an early childhood advocate who writes from Putney. She is also the former director of Windham Child Care Association, 1998-2008.