Ike and Gustav Reveal America Is Unready to Protect Children During Disasters

During the onslaught and aftermath of Gustav and Ike, sympathy, donations and support were in supply as Americans came together once again. One of the best examples was Toys "R" Us, which provided more than 300,000 baby care products for families displaced by Ike and Gustav. But also in supply was many Americans' sense of security from not living in a "disaster state." That sense is betrayed by one simple fact: ninety percent of us live in places prone to Earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. And, of course, terrorism can strike anyplace. While the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and other state and federal disaster relief agencies are there to protect us, there is one tragic and gaping hole in our disaster relief system: the protection of our kids. At any given time during the day, 67 million children are in schools or child care facilities. Yet only four states have set basic standards for child-care facilities, and 18 states are still behind in setting minimum emergency preparedness standards for schools. Simply put, this means that an unanticipated disaster -- and most are -- won't just destroy homes and communities, but they will likely tear families apart and leave children stranded alone in the midst of chaos or a life-threatening situation. Even when families are united in shelters, the hazards are unconscionable. We saw this in San Antonio where shower and bathroom facilities were located in poorly lit parking lots or far from a family's set of cots, putting children at risk of child predators or other dangers. Save the Children, the nation's leading organization fighting to help kids in crisis, is working to get every state to adopt basic standards to meet the challenge of disaster. There are some simple first-step regulations that every child care and school facility must adopt:
  • Maintain written disaster plans that are coordinated with local emergency responders;
  • Conduct evacuation drills in conjunction with local communities;
  • Develop reunification plans for children and families;
  • Develop written procedures to provide for children with special needs;
  • And all K-12 schools should have written emergency procedures that are coordinated with local emergency responders.

Finally, it's not just the kids directly affected by disasters that we need to protect. A child's sense of security may be one of the most fragile things in humanity. And it is easily shattered by the kinds of images we saw on the news last weekend.

It's important we turn off the TV, listen to our children and give them reassurance. There's a complete guide to helping your kids understand these disasters on Save the Children's website.

If the family is our most treasured national resource, then there is no national security imperative more important than implementing a nationwide plan to protect our children during times of disaster.

And we have to act today because disasters don't wait until the day after tomorrow and they won't just strike someplace else.