Last month, the Homeland Security Act for Children (H.R. 1372) was introduced to congress which, if signed in to law, would ensure a much greater level of attention to the needs of children in disaster preparedness, response and recovery planning. This bill, an amendment to a subsection within the Homeland Security Act 2002, is the result of findings dating back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that children experience disasters much differently than adults and that such traumatizing events can change the trajectory of their lifetime. The basis of this bill is similar to the recent legislation passed and progress made by local, state and federal emergency management agencies to fully integrate the Access and Functional Needs (AFN) community in all aspects of the disaster planning process rather than by mere representation in an annex at the back of the Emergency Operations Plan.
Specifically, the primary objectives of the bill would accomplish the following:
- Direct FEMA to integrate planning for children in disaster into all facets of response, and includes the appointment of a technical expert;
- Integrate feedback from organizations that represent children into the work of the undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans; and
- Integrate the House and Senate Homeland Security committees into the conversation and accountability process to ensure the needs of children are met.
The Orange County Operational Area, chaired by the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) chairs a collaborative KIDs disaster planning working group which includes both public and non-profit partnerships. There is also a Schools committee which, inherently, integrate children in to the planning process. These efforts have been ongoing for some now; however, a federal law mandating greater attention on children could assist in future planning efforts down the road for Orange County in terms of both financial and non-financial resource allocation. More information on this bill can be found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1372/text