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National Commission on Children and Disasters: 2010 Report to the President and Congress

Public Health Emergency Preparedness

This resource was part of AHRQ's Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, which was discontinued on June 30, 2011, in a realignment of Federal efforts.

Now this resource is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

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Mr. President and Members of Congress:

The National Commission on Children and Disasters is pleased to submit for your consideration our 2010 Report to the President and Congress.

The Commission is an independent, bipartisan body established by Congress and the President to identify gaps in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery for children and make recommendations to close the gaps. As required under the Kids in Disasters Wellbeing, Safety, and Health Act of 2007, the Commission delivered an Interim Report to you on October 14, 2009. This 2010 Report to the President and Congress builds on our previous findings and recommendations.

One year ago, the Commission offered a sobering assessment of the national state of disaster and emergency preparedness for children. As expected, we found serious deficiencies in each functional area, where children were more often an afterthought than a priority.

For the past year, we have worked extensively with the Administration, Congress, and non-Federal partners to close these gaps by focusing existing programs and capabilities more intently on children. A number of recommendations in the Interim Report were implemented. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created an intra-agency working group to serve as a focal point for policy on children and disasters that has been actively addressing issues raised by the Commission. More recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created its own intra-agency working group that began meeting in May of this year. The Commission has been a driving force in fostering stronger inter-agency collaboration among FEMA, HHS, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice to address the disaster needs of children. Important progress was made to provide a safer environment and age-appropriate supplies for children in mass care shelters, and we achieved a heightened recognition of child care as an essential disaster service in the community.

Despite signs of progress and cooperation, our work is far from finished. Disasters are inevitable and growing in frequency. In the two years since the Commission's inception, our Nation has witnessed severe disasters: devastating 100-year floods in the Midwest, a major earthquake and tsunami in American Samoa, the public health emergency caused by the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti, and the unprecedented oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. On a smaller but nevertheless important scale, communities around the Nation face emergencies every day.

Each new disaster presents distinct challenges. However, we can anticipate the needs of children and, therefore, we can and must prepare to meet those needs. The capability of systems to meet the needs of children in times of disaster will remain inadequate until we as a Nation first achieve an optimal level of emergency readiness for children on a daily basis.

Children represent nearly 25 percent of our population. Consider that on any given weekday, 67 million children are in schools and child care, a time when children are most vulnerable because they are away from their families. Yet, only a handful of States require basic school evacuation and family reunification plans. In addition, just 25 percent of emergency medical services (EMS) agencies and 6 percent of hospital emergency departments have the supplies and equipment to treat children. The Strategic National Stockpile, intended to provide the public with medicine and medical supplies in the event of a public health emergency, is woefully under-stocked with medical countermeasures for children.

This already fragile state of readiness deteriorates quickly when disaster strikes. Programs and practices for managing disasters are fragmented and unaccountable to children; instead they are designed primarily to help able-bodied adults. Children are categorized as an "at-risk," "special needs," or "vulnerable" population, a well-intended consideration that inadvertently creates a perverse benign neglect of children, in which they receive less attention in disaster planning and management rather than more.

We do not suggest that our Nation is completely unprepared for assisting children affected by disaster. Existing capabilities can and should be built on to integrate children into preparedness, planning, response, and recovery. In our final analysis, meeting the needs of children in disaster planning and management is a national responsibility lacking not only sufficient funding, but also a pervasive concern, a sustained will to act, and a unifying force.

The Commission respectfully calls on the President to develop and present to Congress a National Strategy on Children and Disasters. Under the imprimatur of the President, the strategy would sound an unequivocal call to action for Federal, State, territorial, tribal, and local levels of government; private sector industry; non-governmental agencies; faith-based partners; academia; communities; families; and individuals to engage one another around a cohesive set of meaningful national goals and priorities to remedy the years of benign neglect of children.

We recognize the unprecedented challenges facing all levels of government and their non-governmental partners. In these difficult times, however, sufficient attention and resources must be dedicated to safeguarding our Nation's 74 million children before, during, and after disaster, a goal the Commission believes it shares with most Americans.

We present the 2010 Report to the President and Congress having made a careful, conscious effort to provide recommendations that are practical and achievable and can make a lasting difference. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to such a challenging and important endeavor.

Respectfully submitted,

Signatures of the Honorable Mark K. Shriver, M P A, Chairperson, Michael R. Anderson, M D, F A A P, Vice Chairperson, Ernest E. Allen, J D, Graydon Lord, M S, Merry Carlson, M P P, Irwin Redlener, M D, F A A P, the Honorable Sheila Leslie, David J. Schonfeld, M D, F A A P, Bruce A. Lockwood, C E M, and Lawrence E. Tan, J D.

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