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Study: West Virginia schools prepared for disaster

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia schools are better equipped to handle disasters like Hurricane Sandy than many other states, according to a national report.

The state is one of only 17 in the country that meet all of Save the Children's standards for protecting students and those in child-care services in the case of a disaster, according to the annual National Report Card released by the organization.

In the report, West Virginia is commended for making sure all kindergarten through 12th-grade schools have a multiple disaster plan with measures in place to accommodate children with special needs during an event, the evacuation and relocation of students and then a plan to reunite them with their families.

During normal working hours, the safety of nearly 68 million children in the U.S. is in the hands of school officials and caregivers, according to the report.

"Most parents assume that when they drop their kids off for the day, they will be safe if disaster strikes. But two-thirds of our nation's states do not require basic emergency preparedness regulations for child care facilities and schools," the report states.

Twenty-seven states do not require all child-care facilities to have a plan that accounts for children with disabilities, while five states, including Michigan and Iowa, do not meet any of the preparedness standards.

With 17 major disasters declared in the U.S. by the first half of 2012, and with the most recent effects of Hurricane Sandy, Save the Children is reaffirming its report card's findings, which were first released in September, to spread the word about the importance of preparedness.

"We as a nation have a moral obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable during disasters. Children -- especially those who are too young to protect themselves or have disabilities that require additional assistance -- are counting on us to ensure their safety and well-being," Mark Shriver, the vice president of Save the Children's U.S. programs, said in a release. "And yet, emergency preparedness regulations in more than half of the states fail to account for the needs of those who are most at risk of injury, exploitation and neglect. That's simply unacceptable."

Shriver visited Charleston this summer with Save the Children's celebrity representative, Jennifer Garner, as part of the Southern Legislative Conference.

Mike Pickens, executive director of school facilities for the West Virginia Department of Education, said he works closely with the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management office to ensure the safety of the West Virginia students.

"We work closely with emergency professionals before, during and after a crisis hits. The Department of Education always has a plan in place, and is notified before an event is likely to happen, which is followed by continual briefings," he said. "This is very important to us. The report is a testament to the Department of Education's commitment to ensuring not only our students, but our communities, are safe in times of catastrophe. We're honored to be recognized as an exemplary state."

For information, visit www.savethechildren.org.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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