Keeping Calm Under Pressure: Q&A on Handling Crises
When the Marshall Fire ripped through Boulder County, Colorado, quickly and unexpectedly, Center Director Brittany Ruybal and her team at Little People Landing–Louisville stayed cool under pressure. Now that her center has re-opened, we wanted to connect with Brittany to learn more from her experience managing a center through a crisis.
Q: How did you stay calm during the evacuation?
My training just kicked in; I knew I needed to get us to a safe place. I evaluated my options and realized my pre-planned evacuation sights were not an option. They were either too close to the fire or inaccessible due to road closures. I did not have time to panic: there were decisions that needed to be made, plans that need to be executed. A family informed me that the grocery store one suburb east of us was serving as a community evacuation sight so we went there. Though I never really felt calm, I was later told by families and staff that I seemed in control throughout the process.
Q: Was there anything specific that you found was really helpful?
The SmartCare system was a great tool for us. I was able to blast out emails with information on how to get to the school around the road closures and where we were headed once we evacuated. Caitlin Ellis, my district manager, was able to login SmartCare and help contact parents while we were en route to the evacuation sight. In fact, some families first learned of the fire from my emails (the city’s emergency alert system failed for many areas of the community). I also have an emergency binder with paper copies of each child’s emergency contact information, permission to transport and\or get medical attention in case of an emergency.
Q: Is there anything you think you would do differently next time?
In Colorado, we are required to keep an emergency box with supplies you may need during an evacuation such as blankets, bottled water, various size diapers, formula, etc. I have this evacuation box ready in the infant room but I did not think to grab it in the moment. It would have been helpful to have some snacks and books to use as entertainment as we waited for parents to meet us at the grocery store.
Q: Do you have any tips for other center leaders?
KEEP SMARTCARE ACCURATE AT ALL TIMES. Make sure all children are checked in each day, update contact information regularly (address, work and cell phone numbers). Make sure every family provides you with a local emergency contact phone number and that you are able to communicate with the emergency contact. We had one family that we could not get in contact with and their emergency contact only spoke Spanish. This was a big challenge for us because no one working that day spoke Spanish.
Q: Is there anything you think you could have done to be better prepared to handle the emergency?
Make sure all your medical plans and authorizations are up to date including drop in kids! The air quality inside the center quickly deteriorated that day and made breathing difficult for some of our asthma sufferers.
Q: How are you, the teachers and the kids doing?
WE ARE DOING WELL! The school was closed for a little over 3 weeks while the smoke mitigation work was completed. When we first re-opened it was a little like when you first move into a new house — not really sure where anything is — but we also happy to be back together that the disorganization was worth it. Although there is still some reconstruction work needed in school, we are back doing what we do best -caring for the children and community of Louisville. That was something I did not think would be possible when we evacuated that afternoon.