While almost 80 percent of school districts nationwide have plans to
help students and staff with special needs during an emergency
situation, only about 68 percent have protocols to reunite children
with their families after disaster strikes, according to the report
from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Roughly 69 percent of school districts have procedures set up to
cope with pandemic influenza or other infectious disease outbreaks
and to offer mental health support to students, faculty and staff
after a crisis, the report also found.
“Schools have direct contact with approximately 95 percent of
America’s children between 5 and 17 years of age, for about six
hours a day, and are active partners in infectious disease
prevention and control and in the unfolding of any emergency event
such as floods or hurricanes,” said lead report author Brenda
Silverman of the CDC.
“Because children are separated from their caregivers while
attending school, school preparedness plans need to reflect
children’s unique needs with an emphasis on family reunification,”
Silverman added by email.
To assess emergency preparedness, CDC researchers examined 2012
survey data on health policies and practices at about 700 school
Respondents were asked whether the school district required schools
to have a comprehensive plan in place to address four specific
topics: family reunification, infectious disease outbreaks,
provisions for people with special needs and mental health care
after a crisis.
On all fronts, urban school districts were more likely to require
plans than their rural counterparts.
Overall, districts in the Midwest were less likely to require
schools to include specific topics in their crisis preparedness
plans than districts in the Northeast and South.
Districts were less likely to coordinate emergency plans with
families than with local law enforcement and emergency service
providers, the report found.
About 43 percent of districts nationwide collaborated with families
to develop preparedness, response and recovery plans.
Almost 95 percent of districts partnered with law enforcement,
however, and 92 percent coordinated with fire officials.
While about 83 percent of districts coordinated with local emergency
medical service providers, just 41 percent collaborated with a local
hospital and 66 percent partnered with the local health department.
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One limitation of the report is that the survey included “yes or no”
responses that didn’t leave room for districts to explain the
relevance of certain topics in their preparedness plans or identify
areas for improvement, the authors note.
In addition, because the survey is only done every six years, it’s
possible that the data from 2012 doesn’t reflect current practices
Still, the findings suggest that at least some school children may
be vulnerable in an emergency, said Dr. Laura Faherty, a pediatrics
researcher at RAND Corporation in Boston who wasn’t involved in the
“Schools are where kids spend the majority of their day, but they
don’t exist in isolation,” Faherty said by email. “Coordination
among health departments, healthcare settings, law enforcement,
first responders, mental health and social services agencies, as
well as families, is critical to making sure children are as safe as
The results of poor planning can be dire, said Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi,
a researcher at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.,
who wasn’t involved in the report.
“When schools aren't fully prepared for a disaster life altering
consequences may occur including increased morbidity and mortality,”
Fagbuyi said by email. “Conversely, disaster preparedness activities
at the school and in collaboration with community and parents
fosters confidence, community resilience and can save lives.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2cmM426 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,
online September 16, 2016.
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