Integrating Preparedness and Recovery Planning into Education Programs
August 23, 2011 - 3:45 p.m.
||Marla Petal, Risk Reduction Education for Disasters (Risk RED)
Marleen Wong, University of Southern California (USC)
||Marion Pratt, USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance
This session, moderated by Marion Pratt of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, underlined the importance in school systems of preparedness and recovery from disasters or crises. Marla Petal of Risk RED, in focusing on preparedness, provided an overview about comprehensive school safety and ‘disaster-proofing’ in the education sector. Marleen Wong from the University of Southern California (USC) focused on the mental health aspect of recovery for children affected by a disaster or crisis.
Petal addressed the three key areas in disaster-proofing education programs – risk assessment and planning, physical and environmental protection, and response capacity development – by giving examples for each. She spoke briefly about the three goals of comprehensive school safety: 1) student and staff protection, 2) educational continuity, and 3) a culture of safety. An education system needs to establish an incident command response system, and drills and/or simulations need to be carried out. An incident command response will aid response and recovery operations that are appropriate for different levels of disaster or crisis. Petal suggested developing different scenarios for drills and simulations to make them as realistic as possible.
Marleen Wong of USC spoke about the challenges that school systems face regarding response and recovery during a disaster or crisis, since the mission of schools emphasizes academics and testing – even though during such an event it is critical to address immediately the emotional needs of students. The education system needs to stabilize students emotionally and schools need to provide psychological first aid to facilitate that process. Post-traumatic stress disorder has an emotional, cognitive, and neurological impact on an individual affected by disaster or crisis, and has serious implications for children between the ages of 1 to 5. Thus it is crucial that the mental health of children be addressed to enable children affected by a disaster or crisis to function and to regain their emotional well-being.
During the Question and Answer part of the session, Wong highlighted the importance of addressing the mental health of children; research has found a correlation between traumatized children and a lowering of IQ, engagement in high-risk behaviors, and experiencing higher rates of suspension and expulsion from schools; all of these affect learning outcomes. Similarly, Petal noted the importance of addressing loss and grief during a child’s recovery, which is commonly overlooked until a later stage in a child’s life.
Key take away points include the importance of establishing an incident command response system, including drills and/or simulations, to help prepare for a disaster in an academic institution or education program. It is equally important for the education system to respond quickly during the recovery phase to address children’s emotional needs and to help reinstate children’s emotional well-being.