I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast ten years ago. I was a new mom trying to figure out what to do with my six week old son. I was sleep deprived and nursing around the clock. I was emotional.
Seeing the devastation that Katrina caused hit me hard. It broke my heart to see families lose their loved ones. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my child even for a short period.
On the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Save the Children has released its 2015 Disaster Report Card. This year’s report card takes a deeper look at whether or not the United States is prepared for another disaster such a Katrina. Children most certainly suffered the most.
Hurricane Katrina left 1,833 dead, driving more than 1 million people from their homes and forcing more than 300,000 children to enroll in new schools around the country, sometimes very far from the communities they once knew. Though few children died in Hurricane Katrina, the impact of the storm has had a lasting effect. More than 5,000 cases of missing children were reported separated from their families during Katrina. Children lost loved ones, pets and their most precious possessions. There have been serious emotional and developmental consequences years after the storm.
After Katrina, the National Commission on Children and Disasters was created to assess the gaps in federal planning that put children at risk and to formulate recommendations that could guide a national movement to close those gaps and help states better protect our children. The commission’s comprehensive assessment found that “children were more often an afterthought than a priority” across 11 functional areas of U.S. disaster planning. In 2010, the commission issued its final report with 81 recommendations and sub-recommendations aimed at ensuring children’s unique needs are accounted for in U.S. disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
Save the Children has since looked at these recommendations and assessed the progress that has been made. Unfortunately, our emergency preparedness hasn’t improved a whole lot in the decade since Katrina hit. While there certainly has been progress, there are gaps.
According to the report the most urgently needed federal actions include:
- Improve national and regional leadership and coordination of emergency pediatric health and transport so that health systems are fully prepared to manage large numbers of injured or sick children following a massive emergency.
- Restore Congressional cuts and strengthen support of mental health programs in communities and schools that can offer distressed children immediate and continued access to counseling and guidance following a major disaster.
- Encourage greater inclusion of children’s needs and child-serving institutions in state emergency planning.
- Widely disseminate new guidance to communities that will help them quickly reunite families with their children after a major emergency.
- Appoint an interagency children’s disaster coordinator embedded in the White House to reduce duplication of effort and ensure a more focused, coordinated approach to disaster planning for children among federal agencies.
Ten years later, and I’m not a new mom anymore. But I wonder how well we can handle a natural disaster if one were to hit our community. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves on how to be prepared and urge others, including our government, to do so as well.
- Explore the report
- Download Save the Children’s 2015 National Report Card on Protecting Children in Disasters
- Stay Connected and create an Emergency Contact Card to serve as a lifeline between you and your children
- Check out how well your state protects children in disasters
What is your lasting memory of Hurricane Katrina?
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