FEMA Launches Children-In-Disasters Initiative With IAEM, Save The Children but misses the point

An initiative to beintroduced by FEMA and Save the children to reduce their vulnerabilities in the event of a disaster has been launched, but fails to really hit the mark in my opinion. An extract published below from the press statement sounds rather grand, but is disappointing as it does not recognise the capacities of children in any way:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is teaming up with the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), Save the Children Foundation and the American Red
Cross to launch an initiative that will enable the emergency management
community to better address the needs of children in disasters.

"This initiative will involve concrete steps to focus attention on the needs
of children in disasters and help the emergency management community address
children's special needs in the emergency planning process," FEMA
Administrator Paulison said. "Although this initiative is a
work-in-progress, we're committed to a course of action that involves
assessing and adjusting disaster response services for children."

The course will be designed to help state and local emergency
managers incorporate the needs of children into the emergency planning
process and standard Emergency Operations Plans. It will be based on Save
the Children Foundation's emergency management guide, The Unique Needs of
Children in Emergencies, a Guide for the Inclusion of Children in Emergency
Operations Plan.

"Children are extremely vulnerable during an emergency and evacuation," said
Mark Shriver, vice president and managing director of Save the Children's
U.S. programs and chair of the National Commission on Children and
Disasters. "It is crucial that communities plan ahead for disasters, with a
special focus on assisting children."

My response to this on the CYD-NET list serve was:

Dear Colleagues, Although this is an encouraging initiative, it is important that the capacities of children are not overlooked in this instance. It is important that education involves children, rather than them being passive observers, they understand and are aware of the potential dangers as well as being able to know what to do, where to go and how to get there. They need to understand that they play a role in being safe. We teach children how to cross the road safely, how to wear a seatbelt, not to talk to adult that they don't know etc, but we don't yet address how they can be safe in an emergency.
I have recently been an observer in the Southern California shake-out exercise in which more than three million school children took part in drop, cover and hold, and many were involved in school evacuations. Although there was dissemination and feedback with staff involved in these exercises there was hardly any dissemination or discussion with the students that had also taken part. Had they understood why? Was it just another drill? When I asked the students what educational activities they had done prior to the drill the answer was that they had not. In other words it was not tied to the curriculum in any way, but was seen as an 'abstract' exercise with limited learning outcomes. This needs to change for these experiential activities are to be effective they need to have proper time for reflection and evaluation so that it becomes truly part of the 'experiential learning cycle'.

I also asked the students if they had an emergency kit at home, in the car etc, and in a group of twenty, there was one response of, "I think my mom does..." It is clear that these students (of high school age by the way) did not think it was their responsibility. We must move on from 'top down' approaches and be truly inclusive which means involving children in their own preparedness and safety through creative curricular and experiential learning that builds on evaluation and reflection. We also need to move on from didactic education and make it fun and experiential with an emphasis on practical action that can be taken by all (including children) to be prepared.

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Comment by Beryl Cheal on February 14, 2009 at 18:09
I agree with both comments. In thinking about this topic for my presentation at the Partners Conference and for a chapter I'm writing for a book on comparative emergency management responses, I've organizaed my thoughts on children's participation in disaster risk management into 5 levels. In brief they are Level I: basic plans (fire drills, earthquake drills where children follow directions of adults - basically passive learning; Level II: the basic drills + children learn about why natural disasters happen, etc., through discussions in class - children, again, as passive learners; Level III: children learn through projects/participation in their learning (such as, developing a weather station, forecasting the weather based on findings, reporting findings to the class or the rest of the school, talking with local residents about events that have happened in the past in their community, talking with civic leaders about community plans, determining what supplies might be needed for a 72 hour waiting period before first responders might be able to help, calculating how much of which items would be needed, etc.) - active learning; Level IV: incorporating findings from research and calculations, etc. into the actual school risk reduction/emergency management plan, as children participate in its development - even more active learning, and; Level V: the school plan being incorporated and integrated into the city/town plan, with specific input from as many children as wish to participate - again, very active learning - really participating in life. Creative school adults can find ways for children of ALL ages to participate in their own learning regarding disaster risk reduction. We'll do some brain storming at the Partners Conference to see how many ideas we can come up with.

I'd be interested in any other ideas folks have.............Justin, what will your group be publishing? - Beryl
Comment by Justin Sharpe on December 18, 2008 at 7:24
I am glad that this is being addressed in the US, as I think there are excellent drills and reasonable planning but the agency of children and youth is overlooked to the detriment of the long term impact of drills and their sustainability. Our team will be publishing something on this soon! Thanks for you input Carol!
Comment by Carol Dunn on December 18, 2008 at 3:58
Beryl Cheal will be addressing this topic at the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference in Tacoma WA, USA on April 14th. http://piep.resilient2disaster.com/index.php/2009PIEP/2009/paper/view/77

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