October 29 marked the first anniversary of the wake of devastation left after Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York and New Jersey leaving a death toll of 162 and 650,000 homes affected. Not only were homes distressed, schools and more than 250 child care centers were damaged, leaving thousands of children deeply affected by the tragedy around them and with more questions than answers. In fact, many children are still coping with the impact of Sandy a year later and this video by Save the Children shows us that and what they still need to recover.
It's important to mark the milestones of tragedies like these because we need to be shaken again with the reminder that if it happened in NJ and NY with Sandy, in New Orleans with Katrina, and in Oklahoma with tornadoes, a disaster can happen at anytime to any of us.
And I should know.
I've lived through the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of El Salvador's capital city in 1985. I was in school having lunch outside when the earth moved and I lived one of the most terrifying seconds of my life. No matter how many drills we had practiced, all we could do was run to nowhere in particular. Fifteen minutes later, our parents were running to the school to pick us all up and all I could do was pray that my mom was amongst them. I still clearly remember seeing her face through the gate and knowing that her look of relief mirrored mine.
Then in 2005 I was living in Playa del Carmen, just 30 miles from Cancún when Hurricane Wilma hit the area. My husband and I were actually in Cancún helping out my sister in law since she was recovering from an emergency C-section she had three days ago to give birth to her first child. We count our blessings that the baby came just a few days before, but now we all had to protect him from one of the largest and slowest hurricanes in recorded history. What we encountered after almost two days of hurricane winds, was pure destruction all around us. I'm talking full buildings completely torn down and the beautiful Cancun long stretch of beaches gone forever.
Now I live in California where accounts of the "Big One" always talk about the "when it happens" and not the "if it happens." And, still, are we ready? I ask you in my title if your family has a disaster checklist because I know I'm failing the grade. Having lived through so many powerful natural disasters I should know that the most affected are children. I do live paranoid that anytime my daughter is in school, my husband at a job miles away and I'm maybe at a meeting across town, what would happen if the "big one" struck then? How would I get back to get my six year old girl? Do we know where to meet? Do we know who to call? Do we have what we need at home if disaster strikes us together - which is actually my best-case-scenario?
And then I realize that not only is my family really not that prepared but that most states aren't prepared where it comes to protecting children before disaster strikes. Save the Children, the nation's leading child-focused emergency response organization, recently released their 2013 Disaster Report Card and warns that "…investments are remarkably low in measures to protect children before disaster strikes. States have spent less than one tenth of 1 percent of federal disaster preparedness grants on children's needs in recent years." I also found it shocking that it "…reveals that most states still fail to meet four basic standards to protect children from disaster in schools and child care. New Jersey is one of only four states that took action this year to meet all four standards." You can actually check this preparedness map to see if your state is ready.
There are a lot of things we can do to take matters into our own hands and both advocate for disaster preparedness in schools and child care facilities, as well as making sure we have a good plan in our own hands.
These downloadable posters from Save the Children with disaster checklists are a great place to start getting ready to be safe and prepared for disaster. We can share it with our kids' schools and care centers and also print one out to have in your home as a constant reminder to have a plan and talk with our kids about it so they always know how to react no matter where they are.
-By Ana Flores Besos