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Research / Discovery

CSU professor to lead study on disaster preparedness

August 24, 2012
By Tony Phifer

Lori Peek, associate professor of sociology, will lead a team surveying 4,000 Colorado child care centers about their disaster readiness.

Lori PeekOn May 22, 2008, a mile-wide tornado tore its way through the heart of Windsor, devastating the town of 15,000 a few miles southeast of Fort Collins.

The EF3 tornado, which combined with heavy rain and golf ball-sized hail, killed one, injured 14 and caused more $193 million in damages. It was the costliest tornado in the state’s history.

In the middle of the chaos stood the Windmill Childhood Enrichment Center. After the tornado passed, frantic parents rushed to the heavily damaged facility and found that all 150 kids were safe. Thanks to quick thinking by the center’s staff, everyone survived with only minor cuts and bruises.

Peek earns FEMA grant

It is fitting, then, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency today will announce at Windmill Childhood Enrichment Center that a team led by Lori Peek, associate professor of sociology at CSU, is receiving a $30,000 grant to fund a two-year study to learn more about child care centers in Colorado and whether they have a plan in place for disaster preparedness.

Peek, co-director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at CSU, and her team of three graduate students plans to survey every child care center – more than 4,000 in all – in Colorado during the study.

“My graduate students and I are excited to work on this project,” Peek said. “We’ve already conducted preliminary interviews with directors of centers in the state, and we’ve mapped disaster losses over the past 50 years in every county in Colorado. These initial efforts will provide the foundation for the remainder of the study, which will include an online survey of every licensed child care center and in-home day care center in Colorado.

“FEMA is clearly committed to better understanding levels of preparedness in child care centers across this state. It has been really great working with partners at FEMA dedicated to making Colorado a safer place for very young children, who are among the ranks of our most vulnerable residents.”

Groundbreaking research

Colorado is home to more than 340,000 children age 5 and younger, and each day the majority of those children spend time in licensed child care centers or in-home care centers. These child care providers play a critical role in keeping children safe on a daily basis and in times of disaster, yet very little is actually known about how they prepare for disaster.

“Despite the fact that these centers and the people who work in them care for millions of children across the United States, we know remarkably little about their levels of disaster preparedness in Colorado or beyond,” Peek said. “We are hopeful that after conducting such a comprehensive study that Colorado will become a national model in terms of assessing disaster preparedness among child care providers.”

“My hope is that this study will help parents and child care providers to ensure the safety and well-being of children. This type of work might encourage parents to ask questions about emergency plans and other life-saving strategies that may or may not currently be in place in the centers where they send their children. For the providers, the intent of this study is to give these professionals a better sense of how Colorado is doing in terms of disaster preparedness – what is working well, and what might need to be improved to make sure that centers are prepared for the disasters of the future.”

Peek and her team will organize a workshop for childcare providers and parents when the study is complete to share what was learned and brainstorm how to address any particular gaps or challenges in terms of preparedness.