Pediatricians can ensure that federal, state and local disaster plans include protocols for management of children by advocating for the special needs of children during planning efforts at every level. Public health leaders can connect with AAP chapters to identify pediatric experts who can collaborate on preparedness efforts.

The unique medical attention that will be required for infants, children and young adults with special health care needs must be considered. Taking the steps to include pediatric care providers in state-level decision-making and promote strategic communications and systematic messaging are key components of achieving prioritization within and among high-risk groups of children.

Pediatricians Can Improve Preparedness Planning for At-Risk Children

Pediatricians and others who advocate for children can help improve preparedness by encouraging others to be strategic in the way they communicate with others about children at risk. Within the general population, high-risk groups can include:

  • Pregnant woman
  • Lactating mothers and their infants
  • Health care personnel
  • Hard-to-reach populations such as historically marginalized or oppressed communities, undocumented immigrants, people experiencing homelessness or families without access to computers or mobile telephones

Use of a generic catch-all terminology (at-risk, special needs, special populations) for diverse populations with very different needs interferes with the need to examine each of these groups and their needs individually. Use of these generic terms has resulted in combining children, pregnant woman, the elderly and even pets into one group, and this practice sends an unhelpful message regarding the unique needs of each of these populations.

A better message to send is that children have important physical, physiological, developmental and mental differences from adults that can and must be anticipated in the disaster planning process. In addition, there are certain groups of children that will require specialized planning and extra consideration up front. By carefully considering which groups of children may be at increased or even highest risk in a specific disaster or emergency, planning will benefit all children and the population at large. 

Pediatricians can improve pediatric preparedness planning for at-risk children by:

  • Clarifying that children have important needs and that certain groups of children are at increased risk
  • Identifying and planning for at-risk groups
  • Putting a plan in place to keep children together with their parents/caregivers during evacuation, transport, sheltering or the delivery of other services
  • Strategically addressing influenza prevention and control for children with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes mellitus, immunosupression or neurological disorders)

Questions to Consider

  • Has a strategic plan been developed to identify and address the needs of high-risk populations before, during and after a disaster?
  • What strategies can be implemented at the state, regional and local level to enhance the care of children at high risk, including CYSHCN?
  • Does the state preparedness plan consider the unique needs of all children?
  • What are the opportunities at the local level to advocate for hard-to-reach populations?
  • Are there questions that public health leaders have about children in high-risk categories that AAP member experts can help answer in advance of an emergency or disaster?
  • Is there a mechanism in place for AAP chapter and public health decision-makers to determine how to allocate resources and address the needs of children, especially those at increased risk after a disaster? 
  • Can a current public health emergency or local disaster situation be used to reinforce influenza preparedness or other health messages (eg, need for annual influenza immunization, early treatment, connection to the child’s medical home)?

Additional Information

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American Academy of Pediatrics