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Ref: New report finds lack of preparedness for response for children


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US emergency services ill-prepared to help kids: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Emergency services in the United States are ill-prepared to help one of the most vulnerable population groups, children, in the event of a disaster, the results of a study published Monday showed.

"Children are among the most vulnerable in a disaster situation; planning for their care should be a major priority of the emergency care system," said the study, led by Steven Shirm of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Of 1,318 emergency services which said they had a written plan for dealing with a large-scale disaster, only 248 said their plan had specific provisions for the care of children, the study showed.

But child-specific plans are needed because children are more and more frequently the target of terrorist attacks and have different medical needs and responses to adults, said Shirm.

"One of the first things you do for an adult is say, 'Everyone who's all right, get up and walk over here.' If they're able to listen and walk, they're probably OK," Shirm told AFP.

"But you can't do that with a child. A two-year-old would just sit there and scream," Shirm said.

Helping children in a disaster poses challenges because of the different characteristics shown by different age groups, he added.

"With adults, one or two sizes fits most but for kids you need to have specialized equipment for different age groups.

"Their vital signs are all very different, the way they follow commands is different. Ambulance services need to be have the proper equipment for different ages, and disaster drills, too, need to include children," Shirm said.

The study focussed on children because they had been the target of recent attacks, such as the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995 and the Beslan school siege in Russia in 2004, Shirm said.

The perpetrator of the attacks on a federal building in Oklahoma City, which also housed a day care center, "intentionally targeted children," Shirm said.

"The same holds true for the Beslan attack. We know there are terrorists out there who target children because it affects the kids and parents, and psychologically that's very effective," he said.

More than 300 people died in the siege on the first day of school in Beslan, and of the 168 people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, 18 were children aged between three months and six years.

The study showed that less than a third of the emergency services with a written plan, or 576 services (31.8 percent), had provisions in their plan for responding to a mass casualty event at a school or other child care facility.

And only around one-quarter of the emergency services said their disaster response plan included provisions for reuniting children with their parents or guardians in the aftermath of a crisis, including natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

"You need to have a generalized response for how to evacuate lots of children and how you're going to reunite them with their parents," Shirm said, adding that countries should follow Israel's lead in disaster preparedness.

"In Israel, they live with threats every day. They're prepared. We looked at our level of preparedness compared to theirs, and, oh my, we have some work to do," he said.

More than 3,700 ambulance services across the United States took part in the survey in from which the study was compiled, between November 2004 and March 2005.

The study was published in the October issue of the Pediatrics scientific journal.

Copyright İ 2007 AFP. All rights reserved.

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