Children, persons with disabilities, and the disadvantaged have traditionally been left behind in the formal planning of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery systems, and as a result they may be at a higher risk during megadisasters. Understanding how the unique vulnerabilities of these groups come into play during a disaster is essential for developing systems to reduce their risk of mental and physical injury, illness, or death. NCDP's subject matter experts work closely with national level stakeholders such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Disability. Specifically, the NCDP is engaged in: improving the understanding of preparedness for children through national-scope conferences focused on health, mental health, child-specific response systems, and resiliency; and improving the disaster preparedness and response of health care systems and schools.
American Hotspots Project:
This recently initiated project, conducted in partnership with Columbia’s Earth
Institute, seeks to develop measures of social vulnerability that can be mapped
to hazard probabilities, to be used as a tool by policy-makers, emergency planners,
and citizens. Initial work has focused on developing and testing the predictive
capacity of social vulnerability measures by using pre-Katrina social indicator
data matched with post-Katrina outcome data. Other work underway includes the
development of computational models that permit interpolation of high-level data
to smaller units of analysis, such as applying county-level data to census block
The NCDP is focused on ensuring that the physical, mental health and psychosocial needs of children are being met in planning and preparing for disasters and terrorist events. Since its launch, the NCDP has emerged as a national authority on pediatric preparedness. By collaborating directly with public health policymakers, community-based response partners, emergency management groups and government leaders to advocate for children's interests, the program is influencing policy at the local, regional, state and national level. Unfortunately, our entire population, including children, is at risk of experiencing a terrorist event using biological, chemical or radiological weapons. Disabled children or those with special healthcare needs are especially vulnerable, even more so if their survival depends on technological means.
In the spring of 2006, Operation Assist conducted a survey of the school-based mental health practitioners in the state of Louisiana regarding the needs of their students and the mental/behavioral health conditions as they related to the influx of students from hurricane-ravaged areas. The survey findings revealed that mental health concerns are among the most important effects among those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The need for mental health services has skyrocketed while resources remained limited; leaving a growing proportion of all mental health needs unaddressed.
The NCDP, through Operation Assist, drawing on its expertise dealing with children in post-traumatic situations, is enhancing the capacity of mental health providers in the Gulf by providing training in coping and resiliency strategies, art therapy and specialized training for school-based health clinics. In addition, The Children's Health Fund/Operation Assist co-hosted a Children's Mental Health Summit in May 2006 in New Orleans, bringing together key experts to examine the state of mental health care for children and adolescents in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.