A hurricane is a tropical storm that starts in the warm waters of the tropics. A tropical storm has strong winds and thunderstorms arranged in a spiral around a central "eye." When a tropical storm's maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. A hurricane can also be called a typhoon or a tropical cyclone, depending on where the storm occurs geographically.
Although hurricanes weaken over land, they cause considerable damage along coastlines because of strong winds, rain, high waves, storm surge, and tornados. The North Atlantic Ocean has a distinct hurricane season — from June 1 to November 30, when a large majority of hurricanes occur. But the hurricanes of the Northwest Pacific Ocean can occur year-round.
How Head Start Programs Address Hurricanes
Preparing for any disaster is made up of three parts: preparedness, response, and recovery. To learn more about making an emergency plan, read Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs.
An emergency plan should be:
- Specific to the early childhood program
- Relevant to natural, technological, and man-made disasters that may occur where the program is
- Able to be carried out during the program's hours of operation
- Coordinated with state licensing and emergency officials
- Read, reviewed, and practiced at least every six months
Follow the National Requirements and Recommendations for Child Care Emergency Preparedness and any other requirements for your jurisdiction.
Generally, these recommendations include these eight planning directions:
- Make and maintain a written emergency plan.
- Maintain the information needed to protect children's and staff's health and safety during emergencies.
- Make and carry out plans and procedures for communicating with families before, during, and after emergencies and for reuniting children with their families.
- Be prepared to evacuate the facility, shelter in place, or lock down the facility.
- Have and maintain the equipment, supplies, and materials needed to care for and evacuate children and staff during emergencies and to communicate with parents, staff members, and community agencies during an emergency.
- Prepare staff members to protect children's health and safety during an emergency.
- Protect the health and safety of children and adults with special needs and chronic medical conditions during an emergency.
- Protect program information and assets to help make sure the program can continue to offer child care after an emergency.
Once program managers decide that a hurricane landfall is imminent, the response has these stages:
- Decide on the proper response (e.g., evacuation, shelter in place, or lockdown).
- Activate the emergency response plan.
- Keep up communication with all staff and first responders.
- Decide what information needs to be communicated to staff, teachers, assistants, children, families, and the community.
- Give emergency first aid as needed.
After the hurricane has passed, and first responders or local agencies decide it is safe to return to the facility, recovery may begin. Recovery is from the end of the emergency to when the needs of staff, children, and families are met. It can last for a few days, weeks, months, or even years. Recovery includes:
- Repairing or rebuilding the facility, and restoring services
- Meeting the physical, health, and emotional needs of children, families, and staff
- Offering a supportive and caring environment that brings normalcy back into children's lives
Hurricanes can cause damage from both high winds and flooding. Use a Damage Assessment Tool to inspect indoor and outdoor facilities. Contact local authorities for the proper procedures to assess wind or tornado damage and structural damage to a building. Do not enter a damaged building until local authorities decide it is safe.
Floodwaters, whether caused by rain, waves, or storm surge, carry a wide variety of contaminants that can cause illness. Contaminants can worsen medical conditions and cause infections and infectious diseases. Only restart services when children can be safely cared for in their centers and outdoor play areas.
If centers or playgrounds were flooded, test the indoor air quality and playground soil to be sure that contaminant levels are safe for children from birth through age 5. Carefully clean and inspect porous objects made of wood, cloth, or paper to make sure they don't harbor contaminants that can be dangerous for children and staff.
All state child care licensing requirements for reopening centers after a hurricane must also be met before service in centers restarts. Your local and state health authorities have information on recovery protocols. More flood recovery information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Supporting Children, Families, and Staff During Recovery
Recovery from a hurricane includes addressing the health and mental health of children, families, and staff. Children, families, and Head Start staff may experience stress and even trauma. Reactions to a disaster such as a hurricane varies depending on the person, and the reaction may last a short or long time. Work with local agencies and partners to make sure all children get needed health and mental health services as quickly as possible. If any children who are newly homeless enroll in the program, quickly find out children's health status and immediate needs.
Recovery information is best included in the preparedness plan so that staff are familiar with the materials available for helping families though hurricane recovery. Some choices:
- Psychological First Aid is an evidence-informed approach for helping children and families after a disaster. The field manual includes handouts for parents, caregivers, and children from birth to age 5.
- Helping Your Child Cope After Disasters is a tip sheet that gives families and staff tools to help a child after a disaster or crisis.
Tips for Working with Families
The best way to help families through a hurricane is to prepare families before it occurs.
Emergency communication protocols. In writing, tell families how the program will communicate with them in an emergency (i.e., by text, voice calls, emails); what the program's evacuation procedures are; and where to pick up their children. Test the emergency communication systems (text, voice calls, emails), so families and staff are aware of the processes.
Family home preparation. Instruct families on preparing their homes for a hurricane, and give information on any state or local guidance.
Share recovery resources before a hurricane occurs. Give families recovery information periodically so they understand the resources that are available to them after a hurricane. For example, SAMHSA offers a voice or text disaster distress helpline staffed by trained counselors.
For Your Family Newsletter
Tailor the messages below to include in your family newsletter.
Why plan for a hurricane? A hurricane can damage your home and cut off your power or water supply. If your water supply is disrupted, young children may become dehydrated more quickly than adults or older children. Young children are also more at risk of getting sick from chemicals that may be in flood waters and the mold that quickly grows after flooding.
Listen to the weather service for instructions. Know the difference between a hurricane watch (conditions are favorable for a hurricane) and a hurricane warning (a hurricane is approaching).
Plan for an evacuation. Decide ahead of time where you intend to go and the best routes. Local authorities can give information on shelters. Ready Wrigley Prepares for Hurricanes can help your family prepare.
Make an emergency supply kit that has a three-day supply of food and water (and check it regularly for expiration); medicines (rotated with fresh supplies, so they don't expire); bleach (for disinfecting water and cleaning); flashlights; and a fire extinguisher.
Understand how to disinfect water for drinking. If water supplies are contaminated or interrupted, you need to know how to get safe water after a natural disaster. You can boil water for one minute before using it. If boiling is not possible, you may use bleach to disinfect the water. Follow the instructions on the container, and let the treated water sit for 30 minutes before using. If you don't see instructions, add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon of bleach for each gallon of clear water.
Other water issues. If you are ordered to shelter in place, consider filling gallon containers with water for flushing the toilets. Do not fill the bathtub unless you are certain young children cannot get into the bathroom by themselves. A tub with water is a drowning risk.
- A Guide to Building Healthy and Safe Early Childhood Facilities After a Natural Disaster
- National Weather Service's Hurricane Safety Tips and Resources
- Ready.gov: Hurricanes
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Last Updated: August 18, 2023