National Press Club

Speakers Urge More Action for Kids Caught in Disasters

October 5, 2009 | By Terry Hill |

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America's disaster preparedness posture for children is inadequate and makes them the most vulnerable victims in crises like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disasters, Mark K. Shriver, told a National Press Club audience Oct. 5.

"One defining quality that all Americans will remember about the last 10 years is the relentless onslaught of natural and manmade disasters and the constant threat of new ones that can strike at any moment," Shriver said. "For too many of us, this has been remembered as the disaster decade."

Making a joint appearance with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Shriver said 90 percent of the nation's children are at risk of being victims in natural or manmade disasters. In 10 days, he said, President Obama and Congress will receive a report of that proposes new strategies to meet the unique needs of children affected by disasters.

Also appearing during the event and responding to audience questions was
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Disaster Recovery Subcommittee and is an advocate for reforming FEMA to ensure the disaster-response agency is speedy and effective the next time a natural or manmade disaster strikes the United States.

"Nothing prepares you for destruction of an entire metropolitan area," Landrieu said, reflecting on the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and the difficulty of providing shelter for all victims, especially children. It's "just shocking to your fiber."

Fugate stressed the demand for better planning and execution by disaster-related groups, and the need to look beyond government-centered solutions to problem-solving. "FEMA is not the team, it is part of a team" that relies on the Red Cross and several other organizations and agencies to support disaster-relief efforts. His view is to not rely on policy to drive outcomes, but to take a common sense approach to using available resources first.

"We have to get past a government-centered focus," he said.

"Craig gets it," Shriver said, later noting that four and a half years ago, his organization could not get its telephone calls returned by FEMA. "It is more cooperative than it has been in the past."

Shriver also lauded Toys R Us and Chevron for their efforts to implement child-oriented disaster plans and urged corporate America to increase its involvement.

What's the single best thing parents can do to help? Both Shriver and Fugate stressed the need for immediate, deliberate, and focused discussions with children to create and understand the importance of a family disaster-preparedness plan which teaches children how to act when unable to reach family members in an emergency.

Shriver also used the occasion to urge audience members to put pressure on officials to act on children's disaster-preparedness issues.