Last week, a teacher at my high school shared an emotional story about the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when he was teaching at a school in New York City. He recalled the debris that coated everything in white, like the final scene in James Joyce’s “The Dead.” And he stood waiting with his students, several kids with parents who would never pick them up that day.
Nobody could have been prepared for what that school was about to contend with, one of the worst disasters of our time. Even after a decade of disasters ranging from hurricanes to earthquakes, a recent report by Save the Children found that schools across the country are still not prepared.
This news isn’t too comforting to me, a teenager who spends around 2,000 hours in school and lives in an earthquake zone. The report discovered that schools and childcare centers in many states don’t know how to cope with disasters, because state laws simply don’t require them to know. Parents and students alike usually assume that a school is a safe haven, but this report urges families to check again. “Many schools and child care facilities are not required to meet basic safety standards to protect kids should a disaster strike. For the 67 million kids separated from their families on any given day, this is unacceptable,” says Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President for Save the Children’s U.S. Programs.
The “safety standards” consist of four categories: plans for evacuation, family reunification, special needs children and preparation for multiple types of disasters. Since the report came out, several states hit hardest by recent disasters have improved their regulations, including New York, Connecticut, Missouri (struck by an F-5 tornado in June) and California (with constant earthquake warnings and wildfires).
But there are still 34 states with schools that do not meet Save the Children’s criteria. They don’t have plans to move kids to high ground in case of a flood, they aren’t prepared to evacuate kids in wheelchairs and they don’t have updated emergency contact information from parents. Waiting for a crisis as a wake-up call seems to be their only plan.
It took less than two hours on the morning of September 11th to forever alter the way American families would define safety and security in their lives, the report says. We should take time now to make sure we’re safe and secure in our schools.
Photo credit: Tiffany Bailey
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