Every parent remembers their first reaction when they heard the news the morning of September 11th: "Where are my children and are they safe?" As cell phones became useless across the East Coast and children at child care centers and schools were evacuated, many parents were left without a clue about their children's whereabouts during one of the most urgent moments in our nation's history.
We responded to that tragic day by enacting a slew of homeland security measures like the Patriot Act, color-coded alarms, and intensified airport security. While some of these measures may have helped make us safer -- and others may have not -- our country still hasn't taken basic steps to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans in the most vulnerable settings are made less vulnerable to the effects of large-scale disasters.
When disasters like the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina strike, it's crucial to protect the 67 million children who are in school and child care facilities on any given day.
Save the Children's U.S. Programs recently released a report examining whether all 50 states and the District of Columbia have in place four basic disaster safety standards for protecting children in child care facilities and schools. Eleven states did not meet any of the four standards and only seven states met all four.
Among the standards for child care facilities were requirements for evacuation plans that included relocation to a safe place, a written plan to notify parents of an emergency, and a written plan for accommodating children with special needs. And for schools, we looked at state requirements for a multi-hazard disaster plan.
Given the unprecedented number of catastrophes that occurred in the United States and abroad during the last ten years -- September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, the California Wildfires, the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the Earthquake in Pakistan -- we expected the "Disaster Decade" would have prompted us to act, but we were shocked to learn how poorly most states performed.
These standards are common sense and low cost. Everyone who cares about protecting our children would expect them to be in place.
Eight years ago today, we were awakened to our nation's vulnerability and, even more disturbing, our children's vulnerability. Learning these lessons eight years later is better than never learning them at all. But we can't afford to wait another day before acting.