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Mark Shriver

Mark Shriver

Posted: February 26, 2011 11:32 AM

The images from New Zealand this week shocked the world, as we witnessed extraordinary devastation to that nation's second largest city. As much as we are focused on the relief and recovery efforts, this event is also a reminder of the need for better protections from catastrophes like the one that struck Christchurch.

Indeed, the New Zealand earthquake is yet another tragic milestone in a series of unprecedented and unrelenting disasters that have struck the world during the past decade. Even worse, in the United States, the Disaster Decade revealed our nation's inadequate ability to respond to domestic emergencies, particularly when it came to the most vulnerable Americans: children.

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; only 12 states are even minimally prepared to protect kids while they're in schools or child care; and 80 percent of ambulances are not fully equipped to protect children.

It's not hard to imagine the consequences of a major earthquake striking our nation's second largest city, Los Angeles, or a terrorist attack in New York or Chicago.

Protecting children requires action from every corner of our society.

Under the leadership of Craig Fugute, FEMA has already made tremendous progress in addressing the needs of kids. The agency's efforts include the appointment of high-level planning officials dedicated to focusing on kids' safety.

This week, Save the Children's U.S. Programs and the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies released recommended state and national standards to ensure that the 300,000 state-licensed child care facilities across the United States are ready to protect kids and reunite them with their families should disaster strike.

The standards are embodied in a report issued by both organizations that calls for child care facilities to have written emergency plans, family communication and reunification plans, child-specific equipment, supplies and materials as well as other crucial protections.

As Linda Smith, executive director of the association points out, our children spend more than 36 hours per week in some form of child care, yet the workers in those facilities have not received even the most basic forms of training.

The Christchurch disaster was only the latest wake-up call for our nation to do more. It's time we stop hitting the snooze button and take action to be ready for our nation's kids and all Americans when disaster strikes.