09/09/2011 11:59 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2011

The Fracture and the Future

The eyes of the nation will peer solemnly across Lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia on Sunday. While millions of Americans will remember and reflect, many will also look beyond 9/11 to contemplate the decade that followed.

Indeed, 9/11 was not only a singular horrific event, but it was also the first in a wave of unprecedented and unrelenting catastrophes that forever changed regions of America and the psyche of Americans.

  • Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed a great American city.
  • The BP Oil Spill devastated one of our most vibrant ecosystems.
  • Unstoppable wildfires ravaged entire neighborhoods across California, Texas and Oklahoma.
  • A swarm of tornadoes flattened rural communities across the Southeast.
  • Hurricane Irene turned New England upside down.
  • And the East Coast experienced an extraordinary earthquake that rattled millions from the Capitol Building to Cape Cod.

That seismic event left a fracture in the Washington Monument that, remarkably, will serve as a symbolic bookend to the disaster decade that began on 9/11. It will also be an enduring symbol of Once-in-a-Hundred-Years events that now seem to happen every few months.

There might not be much we can do about a newly vociferous Mother Nature or unpredictable man-made events, but there is a lot we can do to make sure that we are prepared.

Ten years after 9/11 started what feels like an epic Hollywood disaster movie set in slow motion, we don't yet have a happy ending on preparedness, especially on the question parents ask most often: "Are our kids safe?"

Save the Children's U.S. Programs released a new report this month, revealing that only 17 states meet four minimal requirements for child care and schoolhouse disaster preparedness. That means, in 33 states and in D.C., parents can't be assured that, when they drop their kids off at school or child care, plans are in place to ensure comprehensive evacuation and the reunification of families.
Moving these states to make change requires that we all take action. Americans can act now by contacting their governor and legislators. Parents can also download a check list from Save the Children's U.S. Programs that they can bring to their schools or child care center to make sure they're ready for emergencies.

These may seem like small steps to tackle a big problem. However, one of the many things we've learned over the past ten years is that the solution to the preparedness deficit will come from every corner of American life.

From a newly invigorated FEMA to aggressively responsible corporate players like Chevron, Toys R Us, Walmart and Zynga to elected officials from across the county, making sure America is ready for the worst has rightly become a shared responsibility.

Sunday may be a day of quiet reflection, but Monday and every day that follows must be about fierce action so that when disaster strikes again -- and it will -- our ability to protect children isn't a disaster in and of itself.