Island Bay Childcare is in the beautiful suburb of Island Bay in Wellington. Island Bay, named after the island Taputeranga. It offers sandy beaches and leisurely boating for those prepared to sit on the edge of the Cook Strait.
As a community, Island Bay began participating in a series of community workshop/meetings facilitated by the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) in 2017 to develop a local strategy on how we can support each other in Island Bay during, and after, a disaster such as a major earthquake.
As a staff team, we were invited to share our feedback as a local group. We have worked with WREMO in the past as we built up our civil defence plans and practices.
It was an advisor at WREMO that encouraged us to carry out a reunification drill as part of our preparation. Six weeks before the event, we advised all of our families we would be carrying out a drill.
It would simulate what the centre would do in the event of a tsunami or tsunami warning, and we asked all families to support us.
We had such a great response with genuine interest and even had families book in for an extra day just to be a part of the drill.
We advised families and children that we would be following through with a normal earthquake drill, where all of the staff and children would drop, cover and hold when
they felt an earthquake or a team member advised them of an earthquake.
At this stage, our Health and Safety Officers, who are in each classroom, would advise the teachers and children that we would be evacuating the centre due to a tsunami because the earthquake went on for a minute or longer or it was too strong to stand up safely.
For our centre that meant evacuating from each of the classrooms and leaving the centre and briskly walking up a nearby hill to the designated safe zone highlighted by a Blue Line across the road. We have three separate classrooms in Island Bay Childcare, two are on the upstairs level.
Through many practices and discussions, we had identified this would be a challenge for our younger infants and non-walking toddlers to move quickly during an evacuation.
We also wanted our teachers to be able to keep their hands free whenever possible.
We invested in a trolley from Kathmandu and this offered a safe, comfortable space for our non walking children to sit while we moved to higher ground.
Teachers also wore body slings so if a child became upset or didn’t want to walk, teachers could carry them to help them feel secure. Other teachers had special back packs with essential supplies such as nappies, wipes and clothes.
We also had water, crackers, books and other resources to engage the children while we waited for parents to arrive.
We sent out a group text message to all families to let them know what had happened and where to meet us and carried out a roll call.
As parents and emergency contacts arrived, a teacher from each classroom meet them at the entrance to the area, confirmed their identity, had them sign their child out and gave them a laminated card to give to the teacher with the group of children.
This really helped to sped up the collection as each adult was accounted for and teachers releasing children already knew the child’s guardian had been confirmed by the other teacher.
The reunification tsunami drill provided a whole range of benefits for our team, the families and children and it was a success due to the collaborative effort from everyone.
Each month, we have a fire drill as part of our routine health and safety procedures and children have to navigate the staircase when walking downstairs to the ground floor.
We have been planning for this challenge and encouraged our families to allow the
children to walk up and down the stairs at pick up and collection times so they have an opportunity to practice.
Many of our families updated their emergency contact details and added additional adults who could collect their child in an emergency which all supports the safe and quick pick up of children in an evacuation.
We also developed a stronger relationship with another early childhood service that is located past the safety zone who will welcome us in the case of an evacuation.
Teachers feel much more confident and prepared to deal with an emergency event if it should arise and feel assured that parents know our procedures well and understand how they can support us.
Our goal in carrying out this reunification tsunami drill was to identify how well our current drill supports our Centre.
We were able to recognise some practices that needed to be tweaked to work better for us and we had the chance to observe how the children would react to such an event, without the pressure of an actual disaster!
Remember, if the an earthquake is long and strong- GET GONE.