Thursday, April 05, 2007

School Preparedness 101

Think back to elementary school: If you are like many of us, it's one of the last places you recall seeing preparedness in action. Growing up, elementary school meant fire drills, line leaders, safety monitors and lunch ingredients stockpiled for years to come. In truth, we can learn a lot from those lessons from so long ago.

When you hear the words "preparedness," "planning" and "school" in the same sentence, you might have flashbacks to pop quizzes and term papers. But for families with children, schools are often the community center of choice for people to turn to in the case of a natural disaster, terror attack or looming pandemic. Teachers and administrators have to think about the safety of hundreds of children and how they will contact parents or caregivers during an emergency. Then there are the children with special health care or educational needs, and mental health concerns during and after evacuations.

In February, the American Public Health Association conducted a nationwide preparedness poll that included school administrators. The poll found that in the wake of recent national emergencies, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, 94 percent of school districts have emergency response plans in place, but only 50 percent have a plan for an infectious disease epidemic.

Even before the APHA poll, a study published in Pediatrics in 2006 found "important deficiencies" in school emergency and disaster planning, with 30 percent of superintendents reporting that an evacuation drill had never been conducted at their schools. So maybe things aren't quite as safe as we remember from our youth.

Today's lesson is this (time to pull out your number 2 pencil, boys and girls): As much that schools do to keep prepared, there is a lot more that still can be done. To learn what you can do to make schools in your community a safer place, visit the National Public Health Week Web site.

Just as parents need to advocate for good teaching and safe schools they need to demand good emergency plans that have been practiced by staff and students.

If you have a child, has your school or day care informed you of its preparedness plans? Let us know by using the comment feature below.

View previous related blog entries on:
School Preparedness Needs:
Possible School Closures in the Case of a Pandemic:
School Closures Affect on Businesses:


Jennifer Thomas said...

My son goes to preschool at our local community center, and they haven't shared any of this information with parents.

What is the best way for me to go about asking for this to be done?

What information should I ask for first?

Anonymous said...

Jennifer - I had a similar situation with my daughter’s first school experience.

Often, they have these things in place - but don't off the bat share with parents during a child's first school experience, because so many other things become the focus.

Just approach your son's teacher and leader of the community center and ask them to inform you and other parents of their plans for an evacuation in case of emergency, how they would contact you, etc.

This will start a dialogue that the other families will appreciate.