Disaster preparation necessary to help children

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Sharon Hawa, Program Manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploitated Children, addresses a crowd of over 200 healthcare professionals at the Children in Disasters Conference. The conference's goal was to inspire integration of emergency plans across the state. Photo by Taylor Winget.
Sharon Hawa, Program Manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploitated Children, addresses a crowd of over 200 healthcare professionals at the Children in Disasters Conference. The conference’s goal was to inspire integration of emergency plans across the state. (Photo by Taylor Winget)

80 percent of Utah’s population lives on the Wasatch Fault, where an earthquake is imminent.

Over 200 healthcare representatives from across the state gathered at the Children in Disasters conference in Provo to discuss different emergency plans and better their plans to help children and families.

“We [are experiencing] urbanization in an area that is prone to natural disaster,” said Jan Rogers, coordinator for the Healthcare Preparedness Coalition of Utah/ Wasatch County. “The goal of today is that when we have a disaster, we can communicate and coordinate to know where the resources are. We are excited to add children to that list.”

This was the first conference of its kind in Utah, according to Marilyn Watts, a representative from the Healthcare Preparedness Coalition. She said each organization has an emergency plan, but no one knows each other’s plans. Part of the purpose of the conference was to integrate these plans.

31 percent of Utah’s population is under 18 years old, while across the nation the average is 23.5 percent, according to Whitney Levano, Program Manager at EMS for Children. This means Utah has a greater reason to plan for children in disasters than other states.

Watts said attendees included healthcare professionals from Primary Children’s Hospital, social workers, EMS workers, public health professionals, and school nurses from across the state.

Bruce Lockwood, President of International Association of Emergency Managers, gave instruction on how local programs can better their emergency plans, especially in reuniting children with their families.

“If you plan for the child, you plan for the family. If you plan for the family, you plan for the community,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood said 5,192 children were separated from their families during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2006. It took almost seven months for the last child to be reunited with her family. He said his goal is to make sure this kind of disaster will never happen again.

Sharon Hawa, Program Manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), explained a program where unaccompanied minors can be registered and NCMEC can expedite the reunification process with their parents/legal guardians. The website for this program is umr.missingkids.com.

“If child reunification isn’t planned for, it can become a disaster within itself,” she said.

The American Red Cross also has plans to reunite families when disaster strikes. Their website, safeandwell.org, allows people to list themselves as safe and well, or search the database for loved ones.

Trisha Holmes, Emergency Services Manager at the Red Cross, said specific challenges present themselves when children are involved in disasters. They include emotional trauma, disabilities, boredom and safety in the shelter. She said that children who go to a shelter without a guardian are assigned a volunteer to look after them until their family is located.

Holmes said that the best thing families can do to prepare for an emergency is to have a family plan.

“Pick a place to meet in your community, and outside the community if it needs to be evacuated. Communicate with the kids and make sure they understand it,” Holmes said.

Watts also said that parents should always ask what the emergency plans are in schools, daycare centers, and recreation centers in their communities. She also said that every child should have an out-of-state emergency contact.

For more information on how to prepare for an emergency visit bereadyutah.gov.

 

 

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