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Survey: Focus on kids in disaster

Emergency medical response teams ill-prepared to care for children in time of catastrophe.

BY STAFF REPORT | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | October 2, 2007

"Children are among the most vulnerable in a disaster situation; planning for their care should be a major priority of the emergency care system."

Emergency medical response services in the United States are poorly prepared in a disaster to deal with children, who are the most vulnerable during a catastrophic event, according to a new survey.

"Although children are among the most vulnerable in the event of disaster, there are substantial deficiencies in the preparedness plans of pre-hospital emergency medical services agencies in the United States for the care of children in a mass-casualty event," the survey said.

"Children are among the most vulnerable in a disaster situation; planning for their care should be a major priority of the emergency care system," it said.

Physicians conducting the survey said events such as school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and at Westside Middle School in Arkansas a year earlier, as well as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, showed the need to focus on disaster response for children.

A nationwide survey of 1,808 responders revealed that while nearly 73 percent had a written plan to respond to a mass-casualty event, only 13 percent had a plan specifically geared to deal with children. A majority, 69 percent, lacked plans for a mass-casualty event at a school.

"Although most (69.3 percent) agencies reported participation in a local or regional disaster drill in the past year, fewer than half of those that participated in drills (49 percent) included pediatric victims," the survey said.

It said few responders had copies of some or all of the evacuation plans for schools in their service area.

"More than half of the services reported that they had never met with school officials to discuss emergency planning, and very few reported having regularly scheduled meetings," it said. "Most services reported that they had never met with child care center officials to discuss emergency planning."

The findings were published in the October issue of Pediatrics, the officials journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The survey was conducted by Drs. Steven Shirm, Rebecca Liggin, Rhonda Dick and James Graham of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The survey was conducted between November 2004 and March 2005.

In 2006, a nationwide survey was conducted by the same physicians into how well public schools were prepared to prevent and respond to a disaster.

That survey found "important deficiencies in school emergency/disaster planning."

The survey said that urban schools were better prepared than rural schools. It suggested that "disaster/mass-casualty preparedness of schools should be improved through coordination of school officials and local medical and emergency officials."

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