Guest post by Gina Cairney
When a parent drops off a child at a school or child-care facility, there's a reasonable expectation that he or she will be safe and cared for, especially in times of emergency. But a new report by the international child-advocacy group Save the Children raises concerns that many U.S. institutions entrusted to protect children are not fully prepared to do so.
In its "National Report Card on Protecting Children During Disasters," the Westport, Conn.-based organization found that 33 states and the District of Columbia do not meet at least one of four disaster-preparedness standards, which include having several different plans in the event of an emergency: for evacuating children during an emergency; for assisting children with disabilities, for reuniting families after a disaster, and multi-hazard plans for K-12 schools. Five states—Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and Montana—failed to meet any of the standards. Seventeen states meet all four standards, up from four in 2008.
Some state officials find mandated fire and tornado drills sufficient preparation for emergencies, but as recent school shootings and other unpredictable events have shown, emergency situations can arise without notice and all schools need to have emergency plans that address multiple types of situations, not just severe weather, according to a press release.
Of the 68 million children who attend school or a child-care facility, 11 million are under age 5, and thousands have a disability or need functional assistance, according to the report.
Without an established emergency preparedness plan that addresses the safety of young children, many children are at risk and left vulnerable, according to Mark Shriver, senior vice president of Save the Children's U.S. Programs.
"The failure by states to establish basic emergency preparedness regulations for the nation's youngest and most vulnerable children in school and child care puts many of these children at great risk should a disaster strike," Shriver said in a statement. "It is unacceptable that 27 states do not require child-care facilities to have a specific disaster plan to help ensure the safety and well-being of at-risk children."
Save the Children has an interactive map attached to its report with state-by-state information on the preparedness standards. Is your state prepared to protect its most vulnerable children during an emergency?
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly indicated that 17 states required plans for assisting children in emergencies. The 17 states are identified in the report as meeting all four of the disaster-preparedness standards.)