Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Disaster preparedness for children

The District of Columbia requires that child care programs have written plans to be implemented in an emergency or less dire situations.   This is a good first step.   But it is in no way sufficient.

I have long believed that we should rely on people with expertise to help those without it.   In this case, that means that the District's emergency management agency should proscribe a framework for disaster plans to be developed by early learning facilities.   These plans should be linked to the District Response Plan.

Why this concern now?   The National Commission on Children and Disasters is about to release their interim report to President Obama this week.   The purpose of the commission is to focus attention on children precisely because "Children comprise about 25 percent of our population and have unique needs during a disaster that require specific recognition and coordination on the part of federal, state, Tribal and local governments and their non-governmental disaster-relief partners."   More simply put by Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, "children are not small adults" and thus emergency disaster planning must consider the needs of children at all stages of planning, not as an add-on issue.

In anticipation of the report release, I encourage policy makers, providers and advocates to watch the hour-long National Press Club Luncheon with Mark Shriver and Craig Fugate.   Folks should also take a look at the Save the Children document THE DISASTER DECADE:   Lessons Unlearned for the United States which points out that DC has only one of the four necessary child protection during disaster components and that is an evacuation plan.   DC does not have plans for reunification efforts, plans for children with special needs in child care (although this presumably is covered under the child care regs mentioned above), and K-12 written procedure for disaster planning.

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