Disasters and emergencies can occur anywhere, and with children spending so much of their time in school it is important to consider how the pediatric and school community can take steps to prepare for the unthinkable. This is especially important when children are in school during the day, and they are separated from their parents (who may be at work, their own school, or at home).

When these disasters or emergency situations occur, children are typically vulnerable. Children differ from adults in their physiology, developing organ systems, behavior, emotional and developmental understanding of and response to events. Children are also dependent on adults to offer guidance or help them meet their basic needs. Children can lack the ability to flee hazards, and they may even approach disaster situations out of curiosity or inadequate comprehension of risk. Children may have been taught to try to help others, and this too can place them at risk. A child’s ability to understand the details of a disaster can lead to stress, fear, anxiety, inability to cope, and exaggerated response to media exposure.

The AAP and other organizations offer a variety of resources for school personnel, school nurses, pediatricians, and others working to strengthen disaster preparedness in schools. Pediatricians and others who care for children in a disaster need to be prepared to meet the physical and psychological needs of children. The first step is to develop a written preparedness plan that includes the steps to be taken (by whom) in a disaster and an operations plan to reduce risks and prepare for and respond to a disaster situation. Planning for response and recovery to meet children’s mental and behavioral health needs is also critical.

Communications Planning

Schools should also have a written plan on how they will communicate with parents in a disaster. The AAP offers information that schools can provide to parents online.

Accessing Community Resources

State/local health department or local government office of emergency preparedness is an excellent place to start when researching your community’s data. School districts and security offices may also have important information on preparedness. The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center’s website includes an interactive map that links to all state resources.

Tools and Resources

Information for Parents and Families

Articles located on HealthyChildren.org, AAP’s website for parents and families.

AAP Family Readiness Kit
This kit can help families get disaster ready. This kit includes general guidelines for readiness that can be used in most situations.

CDC’s Caring for Children in a Disaster
Children are more vulnerable than adults in emergency situations. This website from the CDC contains many tools and resources for taking steps to protect children.

Backpack Emergency Card
This template, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is for an emergency card with contact information to include in their child’s backpack.

Preparing for Disasters at School: Tips for Parents
This website from the American Public Health Association contains tips and a fact sheet for parents.

Safety and Children with Disabilities: Disaster and Trauma
This website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contains more information on the extra support children with disabilities may require from an adult to help them cope with disaster or traumatic events.

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American Academy of Pediatrics