A global child advocacy organization says if disaster struck in the Quad Cities, our schools and day cares would not be ready.
Save the Children developed a list of criteria to help states better protect children during and immediately after disasters. The organization looks each year to see whether each state has laws in place to require day cares and schools meet basic disaster-survival criteria.
More than half of all states, including Iowa and Illinois, don't meet minimum standards set by the National Commission on Children and Disasters for a basic emergency plan for child care and schools.
Save the Children wants each state to require a multi-hazard plan for all K-12 schools. In day care settings, they want states to require a plan for children with disabilities and those with access and functional needs; a plan for evacuating children in child care and a plan for reuniting families after a disaster.
“I definitely think it’s unacceptable...We’ve put this report card out since 2008 and we’ve seen some progress, but 28 states are still not meeting these minimum standards," said Rich Bland, Senior Director of Advocacy and Policy at Save the Children. "If the rough number in family childcare is 40%, if 40% in family childcare are not required to have this, depending on which state, they’re really unsafe in the case of emergencies because the providers haven’t practiced.”
Save the Children offers a map illustrating how all states fared in their preparedness assessment. From their map, you can share your state's results on social media or be linked to a letter you can send to your governor, asking for legislative action to improve regulations concerning disaster preparedness in schools and day cares.
The Save the Children report says Illinois requires a disaster plan for K-12 schools, but day cares are not required to have a written plan for reuniting kids with their families or to have a plan for helping children with special needs in a disaster. Day care evacuation plans in Illinois focus primarily on fire and tornado evacuations and don't address the potential need to relocate or evacuate for other emergencies.
“I get why we got the grade that we got. It shows that we have some work to do and luckily this is a really good time for us because we're doing the work,” said Karen Hawkins, Spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.
Hawkins says a variety of agencies are working together to come up with a state-wide plan for disaster preparedness for childcare providers.
“We have some of the most stringent licensing standards in the country and I feel like every day care provider in Illinois is required to have fire and evacuation drills. They're required to have some kind of alert system so that they know when severe weather is coming, for instance, so I don't think parents should be worried,” said Hawkins.
“I would say very simply that the study you're referring to is just very different from what we require by Iowa law,” said Amy Lorentzen-McCoy, Public Information Officer for the Iowa Department of Health.
In Iowa, Childcare Centers, which have seven more children are required to have an emergency plan for responding to multiple disasters, including floods, intruders and chemical spills. They are also required to have written procedures for transporting children and notifying parents. They are also to have specific considerations for immobile children.
"I think Iowa's lawmakers have provided for very safe environments for the children in Iowa and especially at the license care centers where they've covered just about any type of experience that could happen,” said Lorentzen-McCoy. “I think Iowa lawmakers just trust in that good Iowa common sense where parents will be communicating with their direct small care provider on issues like that."
Iowa also has no state law requiring school districts to have a K-12 multi-disaster plan.
“There's a lot of local control. Iowa is a very local control state that would be another example of when local control comes into play where the school board and the school district make their own decision,” said William Decker, Chief Administrator for Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency. He says local control might allow more freedom than it should, but that he believes Iowa schools are safe.
While most school districts do have some type of disaster plan, they can range from very comprehensive and detailed to very basic. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, many districts began work to overhaul their plans and policies for dealing with disaster.
“Even though there is variety, I do think that kids are in safe places and I think there are a lot of studies that school is the safest place for kids to be anywhere,” said Decker.
Click 8-21-2013.Rule.441.110.5 to view Licensing Standards for Child Development Homes in Iowa