Families with children who have access and mobility challenges, chronic illness, or intellectual or developmental disabilities require targeted messages before, during, and after disasters to ensure that they understand risks to their children’s health and can take measures to avoid harm and build resilience. A review conducted by Dr. Esther Chernak and Mr. Tom Hipper of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at the Drexel University School of Public Health, examines existing resources about optimal ways to address the disaster information needs and communication preferences of families with children with special healthcare needs.
The study, published online the journal Health Security, reported that an estimated 200 million children worldwide experience some form of disability. In the United States alone, roughly 20 percent of households have a child with special healthcare needs — that’s roughly 11 million children. Despite the vulnerabilities of this population, the disaster information needs of such families remains understudied, with few published evidence-based practices.
Of the 27 disaster information resources reviewed, by lead author Mr. Hipper and his team, 74 percent were peer reviewed. Thirty percent of these resources focused on specific events like natural disasters, terrorism, infectious disease outbreaks, and humanitarian emergencies. These studies suggest that parents with medically fragile children require additional information, education, and training to develop an effective disaster preparedness plan for their children. They also lack awareness of schools’ disaster plans, and schools are often unable to meet parents’ expectations for timely, accurate information during a disaster.
“Last year, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey devastated Florida and Texas causing emergency evacuations and power outages across both regions, this required special planning for families with children who were dependent on medication or special technology,” said Dr. Chernak. “The needs of this vulnerable population were extremely difficult to meet in shelters.”