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Schools may or may not be the targets of terrorism, but they are certain to be affected by terrorism, whether directly or indirectly. The likelihood that one or more schools will be in the vicinity of terrorist targets is demonstrated by the events of September 11, 2001. When the first airplane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, four elementary schools and three high schools were beginning classes within six blocks of the site of the attack. Thousands of children were exposed to the dust cloud from the collapsing buildings. Even those children not in the immediate vicinity experienced a great deal of anxiety. Children in at least three states (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) had parents working in or around the World Trade Center that day. Their schools were forced to consider whether to allow students to watch the events unfold, whether family members would be able to return from lower Manhattan to retrieve their children at all that day, and whether some students might have lost family members in the attack. In the Washington, DC, area schools faced similar questions after the Pentagon was attacked. Gridlocked streets and parents desperate to get to their children compounded problems. In fact, all across the country, schools were inundated by parents rushing in to pick up their children.
Schools are integral parts of their communities, but they also have special needs that must be given consideration when integrating schools into community plans, including the lack of dedicated fiscal and staffing resources to support activities and services beyond the normal role of schools. Schools are different from most other community settings in a number of important ways.
Schools are places where large numbers of children are gathered on a daily basis. Every day 53 million young people attend more than 119,000 public and private schools where 6 million adults work as teachers or staff.. Counting students and staff, on any given weekday more than one fifth of the US population can be found in schools. Nearly all - 98% - of young people aged 5 to 17 are students. The needs of schools to protect these young people in their care in a terrorist event are critical to address. In addition, if a disaster occurs during school hours, parents will go to schools, which will serve as a point of reunification of children with their families - yet another reason for schools to be involved in community planning.
Schools are in loco parentis. School officials have a special responsibility for the children in their care. They are responsible for their safety, and their safe return to their families. If an event occurs in or near even a single school, the health care system will need to collaborate with these school officials in order to triage and treat many children at once. Because of their responsibilities towards children with special needs, schools often have permission to dispense medications, and access to health records of students documenting medical history and requirements (eg, medications available at school, allergies, etc.). Schools are also responsible for children at times and in ways that are not traditionally considered. These include, for example: traveling to or from school via school or public transportation; before or after school programs at school sites; sporting events; field trips; Head Start programs; infants of teen mothers attending high schools; and even students who are dropped off before school hours for unofficial child care. Schools are places with a cadre of individuals trained in the care, education, and supervision of children. This is a key resource for children requiring supervision and temporary guardianship.
Schools are resources for response for their communities. In times of crisis, schools are often called upon to act as shelters, food distribution centers, community meeting places, and even command centers. Communities place extra, unfunded burdens on schools in this situation. On September 11, for example, Stuyvesant High School's evacuation was prompted by an FBI agent who wanted the building for a command center close to the site of the attack.
Schools are places of learning. Communities can work with schools to build upon their inherent educational mission to teach children the skills they need to be alert and respond to potential dangers in their schools and communities, prepare for possible disasters that might strike while they are at home, in the community, or at school, and even emergency first aid skills they can use in response to a disaster. Schools can also be a source of education for families and community members.
Schools are places of health care delivery. In some communities, schools may be the only health care provider for disadvantaged children. In addition, schools maintain medical records for children. This is especially important for children with special health care needs. In many cases, the only other location besides home where a child with special health care needs may have their medications, medical supplies, and individuals who know about their medical history, medications, and needs is at school.
Schools are food service settings. In addition to breakfasts, snacks, potlucks, and food served at after-school events, 28 million school lunches are served to students every day. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that foods provided to students and staff are safe and free from intentional contamination.
Schools are also places where recovery services can be delivered. Schools provide access to people in the neighborhoods in which they live. No place else in the community has access to such a high percentage of children and adolescents, and, through them, adult family members. After past community crises, mental health, and other recovery services have often been offered through or at schools. As microcosms of their communities, anxieties, tensions, and intolerance will be played out in schools. A basic capacity, or partnerships with community agencies to deliver health and mental health services is a necessity for schools.
Recovery services and schools are a natural fit. Nonetheless, all phases of emergency management can and should be addressed in conjunction with local education agencies (also known as "districts") and schools. Many different federal, state, and local agencies are developing plans and resources to address potential terrorist events. In order to adequately address the special needs of children, public health agencies (including mental health), and other emergency responders, must involve education agencies, schools, and parents in their planning processes. Working together at the federal level will model collaborative approaches for states and locals. For example, the Federal Response Plan is a system for bringing together multiple federal agencies. However, the US Department of Education (ED) is included in only one component of the multifaceted plan. The same is true for the involvement of state education agencies in state plans. For schools and education agencies to be effective partners, they should be included in all components of the planning process. What happens in schools in a disaster situation does not happen in a vacuum.
Similarly, large amounts of funds have been made available to the states. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Preparedness and Response for Bioterrorism funding provided $940 million to the states to upgrade state and local public health jurisdictions' preparedness for and response to bioterrorism and other public health threats and emergencies. States were not directed to work with state or local education agencies to address the special needs of children. In addition, the CDC has funded several Centers for Public Health Preparedness, but working with local education agencies and schools is not an integral part of their activities.
In other cases, funding is directed locally and statewide coordination or collaboration is limited. Multiple resources might be directed to only one or two large cities while other parts of a state are not provided resources. State agencies can play an important role in conducting broad-based efforts, including the allocation of resources and training to local agencies to ensure a coordinated and seamless statewide effort.
Schools and local education agencies need to be an integral part of communitywide plans. Comprehensive, multi-hazard emergency management plans must be developed and implemented by local public health, law enforcement, emergency response, and education agencies together. Joint trainings are one way to build partnerships across multidisciplinary trainings. For example, in October 2002, the City of Memphis, Tenn., provided multi-hazard emergency planning training to 500 planning team members representing all of the Memphis public schools and at least one private school. The purpose of this training was to assist schools to implement a comprehensive emergency planning process in coordination with their local fire, police, EMS, and emergency management personnel.
A partnership between public health and education has many potential benefits for all involved. Public health can provide, for example, expert health guidance on appropriate school responses to specific hazards, and plans for triaging injured students. Schools can provide health and mental health services onsite and ensure the safety of students in their care. Together public health and education can provide for the safety and health of children.
Reflection Exercise #2