"What hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast was a natural disaster, a hurricane pure and simple. The flooding of New Orleans was a man-made catastrophe. A federal f--- up of epic proportions." -Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman in HBO's Treme
The flooding of New Orleans, which will be marked by its fifth anniversary next month, wasn't the only man-made disaster that struck the Gulf Coast five years ago. Our failure to meet the needs of children during Katrina was a catastrophe of no less epic proportions.
- Over 5,000 children were missing after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the last child wasn't reunited with her family until six months later.
- More than a year after Katrina, 15,000 kids did not attend school.
- Thirty-two percent of Mississippi kids lost their health insurance or their doctor.
- A third of Louisiana children experienced clinically-diagnosed depression, anxiety or behavior disorders.
This situation didn't only reflect an act of Mother Nature; it reflected an act of neglect by our government. Simply put, Katrina revealed that our federal, state and local governments put almost no thought into protecting children, reuniting them with their families, and easing their transition back to school following major disasters.
That was then. Shockingly, this is now too.
Save the Children released a report today revealing that 38 states and the District of Columbia failed to meet four minimal standards for protecting children when disasters strike. In fact, seven states failed to meet any of these standards, and only 12 met all four.
The standards measured the states on safeguards that most parents probably think are already on the books, such as requiring that licensed child care facilities have plans to reunify kids with their families following a disaster and that schools have written multi-hazard evacuation plans in the event of a hurricane or a terrorist attack.
States on the Gulf Coast did relatively well--Alabama and Mississippi have all four protections in place and Texas meets three out of four.
Surprisingly, Louisiana, the state hardest hit by Katrina, meets only one standard. For example, the Pelican State doesn't require all licensed child care facilities to have evacuation plans in place.
Think of it this way: when most Louisiana parents take their kids to a local restaurant, they assume that the restaurant has met public health standards. Imagine if they found out that the restaurant not only didn't pass public health standards--but that there were no standards even in place! Unfortunately, this is the situation in 38 states across the country.
We can prevent a hurricane on the Gulf Coast as easily as we can prevent an earthquake in California or a tornado in Kansas and we can't blame governors and legislators for natural disasters that strike our cities and towns. However, we can and will hold their feet to the fire and demand that they protect the most vulnerable Americans in the most vulnerable settings.
We hope that our leaders' wake up call will be this report-- not the next disaster.