Schools and communities are neglecting children due to a lack of funding and lack of a national strategy to address the needs of children in disaster planning, according to a report by The National Commission on Children and Disasters, a commission created in 2007 by the President and Congress.
“Children are 25 percent of our nation’s population but they are neglected when it comes to disaster management,” said Mark Shriver, chairperson of the Commission. “If we’re not prepared to protect children during disasters, then we’re simply not prepared for disasters as a nation. We need a cohesive national strategy that addresses the unique needs of children and incorporates them into disaster plans.”
One finding in the report says a lot about school preparedness, or perhaps better stated, their lack of preparedness:
“Among the findings of the report are seriously underfunded federal programs for school disaster preparedness…”
One of the Commission’s recommendations included:
“Providing funds to improve disaster planning for schools, child care, juvenile justice and child welfare systems;”
Deja Vu All Over Again
These recommendations are quite consistent with observations I presented in my 2007 Congressional testimony to the House Committee on Education and Labor, my 2007 testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee, and my 2009 testimony to a joint subcommittee hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor. They are also consistent with the 2007 General Accounting Office report, “Emergency Management: Status of School Districts’ Planning and Preparedness.”
I continue to encourage Congress and the Department of Education to increase funding for the Education Department’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant program. The Department funded $28 million in grants this year, slightly up from annual amounts in past recent years but still lower than the first year of funding for the early version of this program started in 2003. This is still a pithy amount of federal dollars for the number of schools across the nation and only results in around 95 or so grant awards each year (with past reports of over five times as many applicants claiming interest and need for support from this program).
Given the current Commission report, its preliminary report with similar findings in 2009, the GAO report in 2007, and three testimonies I have presented to Congress between 2007-2009, one has to wonder what it will take to get Congress to increase appropriations for REMS and other child-focused disaster preparedness programs. The answer, sadly, appears to be simple: A disaster bigger than Columbine, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other comparable events. Considering the Congressional pork earmarks coming out of D.C. every year for everything off the wall one could imagine, you’d think Congress might find a few additional dollars to better protect our children.
Commission Report Demonstrates Need for Broad Scale Improvements
The Commission makes over 100 recommended actions to federal, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to improve protections for children. Among these actions are:
- Calling on the President to develop a National Strategy on Children and Disasters
- Establishing permanent focal points of coordination for children and disasters, including FEMA Regional Offices;
- Providing funds to improve disaster planning for schools, child care, juvenile justice and child welfare systems;
- Purchasing child-appropriate supplies for shelters, ambulances and hospitals; and
- Creating a national evacuee tracking system to reunite children with families as quickly as possible.
Parents should read the executive summary of the report. I think most Americans would be surprised of the level of poor preparedness of schools, child care facilities, the medical community (hospitals, etc.), and other organizations.
Congress and the President: We Have a Problem. Can You Hear Us Yet?
The Commission’s executive summary of its forthcoming full report is one of the most clear, pointed, and accurate federal reports I have seen in my years of watching rather outdated, useless, and off-base reports pumped out from inside the D.C. Beltway. I encourage you to read it. Most of all, I encourage our President and Congress to not only read it, but to do something meaningful once it is read.
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