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Are Schools Today Better Prepared for Disaster?

Five years ago today, the levees broke in New Orleans and we all learned just how unprepared our cities and schools and families were to face a large-scale disaster. For the anniversary, two new studies suggest we're not much more prepared today.

Save the Children's second annual report card on state practices found only 12 states have basic safeguards in place to protect children during similar disasters. The group queried states on whether they require all schools and licensed child-care providers to have four elements in place the organization considers essential to emergency planning for children: a written evacuation plan to move children at the school or center to a safe location; a written plan to notify parents or guardians of the emergency and reunite them with an evacuated child; a written emergency plan that includes procedures for students with special needs; and a school emergency plan that accounts for different types of disasters the school might encounter, including natural disasters or terrorist acts. The 12 states with all those elements in place represent an increase from 2009, when only seven met that criteria. States most often left out requirements to plan for protecting special-needs students during emergencies; only 18 states included that element.

Meanwhile the National Commission on Children and Disasters released the executive summary for its forthcoming report to the President and Congress. The slew of recommendations hints at a lack of coordination among federal agencies around how to anticipate children's needs during emergencies. In particular, the commission calls for better "mental health first aid" to help children cope with trauma and federal support to help closed schools reopen more quickly and receiving schools deal with influx of relocated students. I'll be eager to dig into the details of the commission's findings when the full report comes out in October.

In the meantime, there's some good news: The Department of Education just announced $28 million in Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grants to 98 districts in 28 states.

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