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Ky. lacking in day-care disaster plans

FRANKFORT — A child advocacy group is calling on Kentucky officials to adopt regulations that would require day-care centers to develop written plans to reunite parents and children after earthquakes or other disasters.

Save the Children released a report last week warning that Kentucky, which sits astraddle the New Madrid fault, is among other states that don't require child-care providers to develop reunification plans.

Sadiqa N. Reynolds, inspector general for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, acknowledged that the group's finding in Kentucky is true.

"It is certainly something that we need to work toward," she said.

Lack of planning could make it more difficult for parents to reunite with their children if an earthquake or other disaster forced evacuations during work hours.

Save the Children is calling for state governments to take action.

"More than 90 percent of our nation's children live in areas that are at risk of some type of disaster," said Mark Shriver, managing director of Save the Children's U.S. programs.

Emergency responders in cities along the New Madrid fault — a network of deep cracks in the earth's surface from southern Illinois to northeastern Arkansas — routinely hold earthquake drills. The New Madrid produces hundreds of small quakes a year, most too weak to be noticed without scientific equipment. But in 1811 and 1812, it produced a series of big earthquakes estimated at magnitude 7.0 or greater.

Reynolds said state regulations require child-care centers to hold monthly evacuation drills for earthquakes and tornados.

Some child-care centers, Reynolds said, have taken the extra step to develop written plans to reunite children and parents. Some, she said, probably have not.

Patty Wolfford, manager of Blakeman's Day Care Center in Louisville, said she wouldn't expect opposition to any proposal that would require child-care centers to develop written plans.

"It's a good idea," she said.

Wolfford said she keeps her child-care center's evacuation and reunification plan prominently posted for employees and parents. The plan calls for children to be taken to a fire station about a mile away if the child-care center is evacuated.

The reunification plan that Save the Children is calling for would list alternative sites where parents could find their children. Knowing where that site is ahead of time would be especially important if an earthquake knocked out communications.

Save the Children commissioned the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute to review standards in all 50 states. The researchers reported that only 15 states currently require day-care centers to have a reunification plan for children and parents separated in a disaster.

Shriver, who serves as chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disasters, called for immediate action to require better planning.

"When a child-care facility does not have a relocation site or evacuation route, staff members and children evacuating a building may not know where to go or the most direct route to safety," he said. "This can lead to confusion and panic."

Reynolds said Kentucky will take the organization's recommendation seriously.

"We want to make sure that all children are as safe as possible," she said.