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Many U.S. schools still not fully prepared for disasters

Aug 09, 2018 07:28AM ● By Editor

By Lisa Rapaport - Reuters Health - August 9, 2018

Many U.S. public school districts lack comprehensive plans for responding to natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks and other emergencies despite a federal initiative for all schools to address these needs by 2020, researchers say. 

Overall, roughly four out of five school districts have plans for helping students and staff with special needs during an emergency situation, the study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. Almost four of five school districts are prepared to provide mental health services to students, faculty and staff in the wake of a disaster. 

And, nearly three of four school districts have developed reunification procedures to reconnect students with their families when they're separated during an emergency. 

But less than two thirds of school districts have plans in place to handle an influenza pandemic or another type of infectious disease outbreak. 

"The response to an acute emergency that happens on a single day is very different from the ongoing response to an infectious disease like influenza that may affect a school district over many weeks to months," said Dr. Laura Faherty, a researcher at the RAND Corporation in Boston and a pediatrics professor at Boston University School of Medicine who wasn't involved in the study. 

"This difference in planning for mental health services and reunification procedures versus pandemics may be explained by how school districts are weighing the feasibility of responding effectively to infectious disease outbreaks, who should lead the response versus partner with others such as local public health departments, competing priorities and resource constraints, and likely other factors," Faherty said by email. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Healthy People 2020" agenda includes several school disaster preparedness topics among its goals for a healthier population. 

To assess whether emergency preparedness is improving, CDC researchers examined survey data collected from several hundred school districts nationwide in 2006, 2012 and 2016. 

Respondents were asked whether the school district required schools to have plans in place for family reunification, infectious disease outbreaks, assistance for people with special needs and mental health care after a crisis.

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