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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Protecting children in disasters

Key Accomplishmens: Protecting Children in Disasters

Nearly 25 percent of people in the U.S are children and they may need additional help during disasters.  Since 2006, ASPR has made significant progress in caring for children in disasters by coordinating across HHS to build partnerships, lead change, and raise awareness of the unique vulnerabilities facing children in disasters.

Building partnerships

ASPR and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership in Disasters (CHILD) Working Group in February 2010 to integrate the needs of children into all HHS disaster planning activities and operations, including preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

The needs of children in a disaster can be very different from the needs of adults.  The working group focused on seven key areas that impact children’s health in a disaster: 1) mental and behavioral health; 2) medical countermeasures; 3) physical health, emergency medical services (EMS), and pediatric transport; 4) child care and child welfare; 5) support for pregnant and breastfeeding women and newborns; 6) children with special health care needs; and 7) enhancing collaboration across government and with non-governmental organizations.

The CHILD Working Group assessed existing capabilities to facilitate policy and response coordination across HHS.  The group developed recommendations to enhance the role of HHS in providing and facilitating care to address the disaster-related health and human services needs of children during and after disasters or public health emergencies.

The activities and accomplishments of the group are summarized in the 2011 Update on Children and Disasters and the 2012-2013 CHILD Report.

ASPR also leads the HHS Preparedness for Pregnant Women Working Group with coordination and support from the Coordinating Council on Women’s Health led by the Office of Women’s Health.  The goal of this working group is to integrate the needs of pregnant women into all disaster and public health emergency preparedness, response, and recovery activities across HHS.  Members from across the department provide subject matter expertise or work with programs touching this population.

In 2013, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act established a new National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters (NACCD).  The NACCD consists of federal and non-federal health care professionals who provide expert advice on the medical and public health needs of children in disasters, such as recommendations regarding medical countermeasures for pediatric populations.

Leading change

The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise (PHEMCE) continues to promote pediatric and obstetric medical countermeasures in public health emergencies.  This interagency group established the Pediatric and Obstetric Integrated Program Team to assist HHS with strategies for identifying, developing, acquiring, deploying, and using high priority medical countermeasures for children and pregnant women in all public health emergencies.  HHS partners collaborate to make decisions on medical countermeasures investments including development and acquisition of medical products to protect children in emergencies involving plague, inhalational anthrax, influenza, and botulism.

To support children’s physical health, EMS, and pediatric transport, the National Disaster Medical System developed the capability to deploy pediatric specialists and subspecialists to augment traditional medical response teams.  The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps also has pediatric specialists on its teams who can deploy to disaster areas to provide care after disasters.  In addition, ASPR partnered with pediatric transport stakeholders to design a national strategy for pediatric patient movement in a large disaster.

Raising awareness

ASPR and CDC co-led the Healthy People 2020 Preparedness Topic Area Working Group and added 16 new objectives, four of which related to children and preparedness with supporting data from CDC, FEMA, and Save the Children.  The Healthy People objectives encourage preparedness activities in schools and child care settings.

Leveraging social media, ASPR hosted several Twitter chats to provide information, resources, and tools to help families plan to protect children, newborns, and pregnant women prepare in disasters.  Federal and non-federal partners, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and New York Times best-selling author Heidi Murkoff, joined these events to raise awareness of issues related to early childhood and maternal health in disasters.

The path forward

In just the last year, the Flint water crisis and Zika have threatened the health of children in particular, who are among the most vulnerable populations in any disaster.  ASPR continues to play a critical role in promoting the integration and coordination of children’s needs across HHS activities during disasters so that we can better protect health when disaster strikes.

  • This page last reviewed: December 13, 2016