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Pediatricians can keep kids’ needs front and center in disaster planning :

April 1, 2020

Editor’s note:This is the second of two articles on the pediatrician’s role in disaster preparedness. Read the first article at

Pediatricians have held critical roles in all phases of the disaster cycle (mitigation/prevention, preparedness, response and recovery) at local, regional and national levels. They are a trusted source of information for families and can be advocates for children during disasters, especially when recovery is long-term.

The AAP policy statement Ensuring the Health of Children in Disasters ( offers guidance on personal and office preparedness, describes pediatricians’ roles in disasters, and lists educational and training resources.

Examples of pediatricians’ involvement in recent disasters include AAP members’ collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the care of children during the 2014-’16 Ebola outbreak and the public health response to the Zika virus since 2017. Pediatricians also have been involved in managing the aftermath of catastrophic weather events, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, and active shooter events.

Among the roles pediatricians can play in disaster preparedness is helping to develop plans for managing the mental health needs of children or supporting community plans for reunification of children with their families.

An intact medical home also is a key component of community recovery and resiliency. Pediatricians can work with public health and emergency management teams as advisers and advocates for children’s needs in community recovery efforts. For example, a key factor in a community’s recovery from a disaster is a return to routine that can be provided by reopening child care programs and schools, and cleanup efforts that offer safe spaces for children to play.

Despite many competing priorities, it is important for pediatricians to be at the table when disaster planning is discussed. Pediatricians should tailor disaster planning to their practice setting and local risks or threats. The AAP offers many resources and opportunities to help members (see resources).

Following are recommendations for engaging in disaster preparedness efforts:

  • Create or update your personal, staff and office preparedness plans.
  • Connect with your AAP chapter’s contacts for disaster preparedness at to share resources for educating families and supporting child care programs and school systems.
  • Participate in local public health and community exercises, drills and activities via your local health care system emergency management teams and/or the local health care coalition.
  • Consider volunteering to represent pediatrics with local disaster response groups such as the Medical Reserve Corps (, and register for your community disaster alert systems.
  • Educate yourself on the readiness of hospitals in your community to address children’s needs in disasters, including emergency department readiness to care for children (see and, and advocate with hospital administrators to make improvements. About half of U.S. hospitals report lacking disaster plans that address care needs for children.
  • Watch for ways to support the relaunch of the National Pediatric Readiness Project ( in June and opportunities to get involved in National EMS Week May 17-23.
  • Provide anticipatory guidance to families on the importance of personal preparedness, especially those who have children with special health care needs.

Pediatricians have an obligation to their patients, families, colleagues and communities to have a plan and be prepared for the worst. Within the disaster spectrum, a little bit of pediatric readiness can go a long way.

Dr. Simpson is a member of the AAP Council on Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Executive Committee and the Section on Emergency Medicine.


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