State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Preparing for Disasters, with the Focus on Children

natural disasters, HUrrican Sandy, Save the Children
A new initiative will focus on protecting children from natural disasters. Above: a moment at a shelter after Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Save the Children

A new initiative directed by the Earth Institute’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia will focus on protecting children from all types of disasters, starting with a pilot program in two communities in New York and Arkansas.

The project is a partnership with Save the Children and the pharmaceutical company GSK, funded by a three-year, $2 million grant from GSK.

“Severe gaps in emergency planning, particularly the lack of the inclusion of children’s critical needs for protection, safeguarding and support, put communities and families across the United States at risk,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “As severe weather and other disasters wreak havoc on local communities, we hope that community leaders will benefit from guidance on how to incorporate the unique needs of children into their preparation and response plans.”

The “Resilient Children/Resilient Communities” initiative will develop pilot programs in Washington County, Ark., and Putnam County, N.Y., to guide those communities through a crisis simulation, and help them develop a sustainable, child-focused action plan to improve community and child resilience at an institutional level.

Nepal earthquake, natural disasters
An estimated 1.5 million children lived in the area affected by the recent earthquakes in Nepal. Photo: UNICEF

The initiative will form a National Children Resilience Board that will identify national policies and programs to serve as vehicles for improving community resilience for children. The initiative will also launch an outreach campaign to educate localities nationwide on how to better care for children following disasters.

According to a news release about the project, every day, 69 million children spend the day at daycare or school. If disaster strikes during that time, 21 states and the District of Columbia lack basic preparedness standards to protect them in schools and child care centers, and 40 percent of American families do not have an emergency plan. It took an astounding seven months to reunify the last child after Hurricane Katrina.

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness focuses on disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, with a special interest in vulnerable populations. Many of the center’s recovery projects have focused on the health and mental health needs of children who have been affected by disasters, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The center’s work includes long-term research into the effects of disasters on families and children, and an ongoing project in the Gulf region to give young people a voice in helping their communities recover from disasters.

For more on the new initiative, visit the project home page, and the websites of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Save the Children, and GSK.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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