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Planning for Winter Emergencies

If your program is located in an area subject to extreme cold and winter weather, you need a plan for handling weather-related emergencies. Review the new Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs (EPM) and use the tools within to create or revise your winter weather plan. Consider planning for some or all of the situations noted below.

Prevent and Respond to Frostbite and Hypothermia

The best way to protect children from cold-related conditions is to dress them properly and to monitor the time they spend outdoors. Read our Cold Weather Safety tip sheet to learn more. Children are vulnerable to cold and—despite your precautions—may develop either frostbite or hypothermia.

Frostbite is a condition in which the tissues in some parts of the body freeze—typically the face, fingers, and/or toes. Warning signs include numbness in the area and skin that turns white or grayish-yellow and that is firm or waxy to the touch. Because a frostbitten area becomes numb, both the child and provider may be unaware of the problem until they are back indoors.

Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature caused by exposure to extreme cold. Warning signs include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.

What To Do if You Suspect Frostbite or Hypothermia

  • Bring the child into a warm room and call 911.
  • Remove any wet clothing and wrap the child in blankets.
  • Call the child’s family or emergency contact to alert them.
  • Do not rub an area that appears frostbitten, as that action can make the condition worse.

Stay Informed About Possible Bad Weather

There are several ways to stay informed about weather conditions, including the following:

  • Sign up for community alerts.
    • You can contact your local government for instructions.
  • Own a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio to ensure access to Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages and related EAS information.
    • Typically, the radios are battery-operated or have a hand crank.
  • Ensure that your mobile phone can receive Wireless Emergency Alerts; ask your service provider for details if necessary.
    • You will automatically receive alerts about weather and other emergencies.

Plan What To Do if Your Program Loses Power

A snowstorm, a wind storm, or ice buildup on utility lines may cause you to lose power. Be prepared for that possibility in the following ways:

  • Make sure that your communications plan is up to date so that you can quickly contact families to pick up their children (EPM, pp. 12–13, 31–32).
  • Plan to keep children warm until they are picked up.
    • Stockpile blankets and/or sleeping bags.
  • Decide where to cluster children and staff members and close off other rooms to retain heat.
  • Have a fully stocked emergency kit (EPM, p. 21).
  • Develop an evacuation plan (EPM, pp. 13–15, 18) for winter emergencies.
    • If conditions delay parents from reaching your program and your facility gets too cold, think about moving everyone to your designated alternate location.

Other Winter Emergencies

For more information on winter emergencies and other ways to keep your children and program staff members safe, visit these government websites:

Share Your Questions and Tips on MyPeers

Have you experienced a cold weather emergency in your program? How did you handle it? Do you have questions for other providers? Post and discuss your questions, experiences, and strategies on the MyPeers Health, Safety, and Wellness community site.

If you’re not a member of MyPeers, you can complete the MyPeers registration form to create your member account. If you’re already a member, find the Health, Safety, and Wellness community in MyPeers under “All Communities” and select the blue “Join” button.

Office of Child Care

Administration for Children and Families

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mary E. Switzer Building, Fourth Floor, MS 4425

330 C Street, S.W.

Washington, DC  20201

General office number: (202) 690-6782

Fax: (202) 690-5600

General email: occ@acf.hhs.gov

Website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/occ