Children and Megadisasters: Lessons Learned in the New Millennium

Andrew L. Garrett, Roy Grant, Paula Madrid, Arturo Brito, David Abramson, Irwin Redlener

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Many specific lessons were learned from recent megadisasters in the United States at the expense of children who suffered from a government and a citizenry that was desperately unprepared to respond to and recover from the disaster's short- and long-term effects. During the 9/11 attacks, the nation learned a new sense of vulnerability as the specter of terrorism was delivered repeatedly to our collective consciousness. As this article has emphasized, children experienced significant and widespread psychological effects from this event, and many did not receive adequate treatment. Hurricane Katrina exploited the weaknesses of an already strained child mental health system and vividly demonstrated the liability of poor preparedness and inadequate communication by both families and governments. The impact of Katrina continues to affect many thousands of children over a year later, as the systems that were intended to care for them have largely moved on. Indeed, there was no mention of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast, or the storm's survivors in the 2007 State of the Union address by the President. After 9/11 and the unprecedented federal spending that occurred to increase our nation's readiness, it is discouraging that the response to Hurricane Katrina fell so short of what had the potential to be the greatest disaster response and recovery story in the history of our nation. It is unlikely that further uncontained expenditures will solve the problems that were exposed in the Gulf Coast. There is not a solution that money can buy. One need only look a few hundred miles south to the Cuban disaster response system to appreciate where some of our shortfalls lie. Cuba has succeeded where the United States has not in part because its citizens are participants in their own preparedness. They engage their children and their families in preparedness planning and they rely upon other members of their community to strengthen their ability to survive as individuals. The American mentality of "dial 911 in an emergency and wait for help" works only as long as there are enough resources to match the need. In a disaster, this approach has proven to be inadequate over and over again. In America, we are well positioned to be leaders in responding to the needs of children affected by disaster. The resources of our government and the resourcefulness of our people should offer much promise for the future. By analyzing our past shortfalls and taking practical steps to mitigate the existing barriers to preparedness, our children, we hope, will fare much better the next time a megadisaster strikes. Box 7 includes suggestions for national priorities for child disaster care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-214
Number of pages26
JournalAdvances in Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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