Texas went through what is being called the snowpocalypse of 2021. The effects on childcare centers have been many and varied.
A few people had plumbing issues that resulted in MAJOR water damage. This made their building unsafe. They had to relocate.
Do you have a relocation plan in your SOPs?
Do you have a relationship with a nearby business, faith organization, or community center where you could relocate in a time of crisis?
Do you have a relocation plan in your Standard Operating Procedures? Do you have a relationship with a nearby business, faith organization, or community center where you could relocate in a time of crisis?
Your child care center is in a building. Sometimes buildings fail, as they did this week, through no fault of yours.
It can come in lots of different forms. You can
- lose electricity
- lose water or sewer
- be flooded
- sustain damage the exterior of the building
- have roof damage
- have a breakdown of systems
How you handle each of these is pretty similar.
There is nothing in Texas minimum standards that says that you have to have electricity. But your building have to be bright enough that you can safely supervise the children and you have to have a working phone. If the only phone you have is dependent on electricity, then that will not work. So, a power outage is not an automatic closure.
- You have to look at your building safe for occupancy of anyone without special training. If so then we move on to
- is it safe enough to house the children?
Losing water pressure is a little bit different. Licensing does require that we wash our hands many, many, many, many times during the day and that needs to be done with sanitary water. If you have a boil notice for the water in your area temporarily, do you have another way to get clean water for hand-washing? Once you have gotten the hand washing water do you have a way to dispense it where you don't have to hold onto a button or something like that for the water to come out? In a traditional sink you turn the spigot the water comes out so you don't have to hold the spigot for the water to come out. That is what is required in order to continue operations when you do not have water pressure or when you have a boil notice at your Center.
As long as the pipes are flowing out and you can have sanitary water for people to drink and for handwashing you can stay open.
If you have a failure of your sewer system, you must close your business. There is no way around that.
Other mechanical systems can fail and as long as it is safe for the children to be there, you can continue operating with that failed system. Primarily what we're talking about here is your heating and cooling system in your building. if it is the middle of August and the interior temperatures in your building are going to be over a hundred degrees... you probably need to close your business temporarily while the air conditioning is being repaired. If it's staying in the 80s you should be fine but you should probably still notify the parents that the HVAC system is out and that it will be out for X number of hours. If it is the heating system during the winter you have the same issue. How cold is it going to get in your building before the heat can come back on? If it is going to be too cold for the children to stay safe and healthy inside your building with the clothing that they have available then you need to close down your program until the heat came be repaired but if everybody has jackets and they're fine and the temperature is going to stay pretty consistent with where it is right now then I think you're fine.
During this 2021 snowstorm that led to power outages and water outages throughout the state of Texas for multiple days we had to close our programs. However, if you had a backup generator and backup water you may have been able to stay open. Very few programs have that and because this is such a rare event I would not recommend running out and getting it unless you are a childcare program associated with a hospital or other key infrastructure.
The other type of failure that your building may have is structural. Something has damaged the exterior walls, the roof, the interior walls, or the floor. Whether that it damages done by a rabbit who got out of their cage or a storm, wildfire, or a car accident does not matter. We still need to look first at the safety of the building for adults than the safety of the building for children before determining whether or not we can be open. It may be possible that you only have to close part of the building because the roof is impact in the other parts of the building or the external wall is not so damaged as to make it impossible for you to keep it climate controlled. In that case, you would simply close that classroom and continue operating in the rest of the building.
As soon as any significant damage happens you need to call your insurance agent because some policies have a requirement that the insurance company be notified within 48 hours of the damage. Don't wait. Call the insurance company or email them. Next you need to call licensing and let them know that something has happened to make all or a part of your building unsafe. They also must be notified within 48 hours of you determining that there is a hazard. Again, I would recommend this be done in email so that licensing has a paper trail that you notified them within the appropriate time frame.
It may take longer to get approved for repairs by your insurance company than you can reasonably afford to wait. That is why it is important to have an emergency savings account for your child care center so that when your building fails you can do the repairs and then be reimbursed by the insurance company. When you are doing that you must keep every receipt and every invoice from every person who works on the building to submit that to the insurance company so that you will be reimbursed for those expenses. that includes hourly wages for any of your employees who may work on resolving the problems.
All of this presumes that you're going to be able to go back into your building in a very short amount of time. However, in some cases you have to relocate to another building because it is not safe and you need to offer care to your community. In that case what Health and Human Services requires is that you notify them that you were going to move to the alternate location before you move any item into the new location. Once you have notified them, you can move your equipment and supplies to that other location. You do not have to wait until licensing get back to you. In the case of natural disasters ,such as the snowpocalypse, they have too many centers in crisis to respond to in a timely manner. Therefore they allow you to relocate using your best judgment and they will get back to you as soon as they can. In some cases that temporary move ends up lasting months and months. When that happens, licensing will come out and inspect the alternate location. If you're only in the alternate location or a week, licensing is very unlikely to come do an inspection
You may have noticed that I said WHEN your building fails, you need to have an emergency fund. This is not a question of if. It is a question of when. Every Center is going to have a failure of their building at some point if they're open for 5 to 10 years. Hopefully for you it will be a simple as your HVAC unit going out in the middle of the day but it may be as traumatic as having your building have two feet of water in it because of a water main break, a hurricane, or tornado.
You have to be prepared for this and you need to create standard operating procedures for what you will do in this situation. That means you should have a relationship with potential relocation partners before your building fails. This can be churches, it can be property that is vacant at a local strip center. The opportunities are as many as your creative minds can come up with. Some programs have even relocated to parks that have bathrooms because you're not required to have a building. This is usually for short-term 1-2 day closures.
I hope this helps and let me know about what building failures you had at your Center or centers you worked at in the past.