Friday, April 17, 2009

Reading, writing, 'rithmetic...and disasters? Making sure your school is prepared

As a parent, you do everything in your power to make sure your children are safe from disasters. You teach them not to play with matches, and how to call 9-1-1. But once they arrive at school, their safety is out of your hands. Luckily, there is a way for schools to be more prepared: The U.S. Agency for Health Research and Quality has created a new resource for schools to use when planning for the unexpected.

The new AHRQ toolkit "School-Based Emergency Preparedness: A National Analysis and Recommended Protocol" helps schools create their own detailed preparedness plans to help keep kids safe, covering everything from preparations and training to communications and building security.

One of the first steps to being more prepared is planning, which should involve teachers, public health officials and local safety workers, according to AHRQ. Parents can also play a role in helping schools prepare. When time is of the essence, swift communication can make all the difference. Parents can assist communication by alerting schools when their contact information changes. Because this step is easily forgotten, schools should periodically get in touch with parents to see if anything has changed.

Despite the need for preparedness, many schools may not be as ready as they should be, especially when in comes to issues such as sheltering in place during an emergency or lockdown situations. Yet they have good reason to be: More than 50 million children attend the nation's 115,000 schools daily, spending more than 70 percent to 80 percent of their waking hours there. And disasters can easily happen without warning during the school day.

What can you do? Find out the status of your local school's preparedness plan by contacting a school administrator or member of the PTA. If your school isn't prepared, refer administrators to the AHRQ toolkit or resources from the U.S. Department of Education. Helping your school develop a preparedness plan is an excellent way to get the community involved and help guarantee the safety of your community's children.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

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