A Community-wide Approach to Protecting Children from Disaster

September 20, 2018
Becki Lynch
Director, US Community Partnerships, GSK

Sixty-nine million children are away from their parents every day, in daycare centers, schools, and camps or with neighbors, family, or friends. If a disaster strikes, where will those children be taken? Are child-serving institutions prepared? Are they on the radar of local first responders? These are the questions that the Resilient Children/Resilient Communities (RCRC) Toolbox tries to help parents, communities, and policy-makers answer.

The RCRC Toolbox is the culmination of a $2 million, three-year initiative led by The National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the international nonprofit Save the Children, funded by GSK, to foster a community-wide approach to child-focused disaster planning. It is the only comprehensive disaster planning resource that specifically focuses on the needs of children, and it has already helped two pilot RCRC communities become better prepared for the needs of children should a disaster strike.

In 2013, GSK embarked on an ambitious long-term global partnership with Save the Children, with the goal to save one million children’s lives. Over the past five years, we have combined our capabilities in R&D, supply chain, procurement, and vaccines with the charity’s expertise working with the most vulnerable children. To date, we have reached over 2.78 million children, including more than 97,600 children under age five who have been fully immunized; over 290,000 children who have been vaccinated against measles or polio; over 187,800 children who have been treated for diarrhea, malaria, or pneumonia and over one million children who have been screened for malnutrition.

In the U.S., this global partnership focuses on supporting children suffering from the impact of natural disasters, including the development of resilience infrastructure in communities to better prepare for and meet their unique needs during and after a disaster strikes. To achieve this, in 2015 we partnered with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and Save the Children to research and develop a national model. Working in two pilot communities (Washington County, Arkansas, and Putnam County, New York), our RCRC partners helped to form local Community Resilience Coalitions that created and strengthened partnerships between the health department, emergency management, schools, childcare providers, after school programs, law enforcement, and first responders to create communication plans, conduct emergency planning and trainings, and coordinate child-focused planning.

NCDP is evaluating each pilot community against the Community Preparedness Index, which measures overall systemic readiness for children in disaster. While end line studies are currently underway, initial indications show that both communities are quantifiably more resilient as a result of the RCRC initiative. Thanks to their hard work and the support of NCDP and Save the Children, these two communities are better prepared to protect and support more than 76,000 children in their care.

This past April, leaders from each community coalition went to Washington, D.C. to brief members of Congress and federal agency experts on their experience, learnings, and recommendations for how other communities across the U.S. can better prepare for the needs of children. Their powerful and candid testimony highlighted the need for emergency management and child-serving agencies to work together, sharing their expertise to better achieve their shared goal to keep our communities’ most vulnerable population from harm and able to bounce back from trauma.

After three years of hard work, the RCRC initiative has produced a comprehensive online toolbox of resources to share with communities across the U.S. With nearly two-thirds of American households lacking adequate disaster plans, the Resilient Children/Resilient Communities Toolbox provides the resources that parents, community leaders, emergency management officials, schools, and childcare centers need to prepare for emergencies and improve their ability to help children quickly return to a sense of normalcy. The toolbox is available online to the public free of charge.

The goal of the RCRC Toolbox is to foster a community-wide approach to child-focused disaster planning and cultivate better communication between the various local organizations that serve children and families. We are excited to share it with more communities and will continue to advocate and educate for the adoption of these best practices, tools, and methods from this initiative to keep all children safe and resilient in the face of disaster.