June 7, 2011-Legislation requiring the state to address the needs of children in its civil preparedness planning cleared the House of Representatives today and now heads to Governor Dannel P. Malloy for his signature.
The legislation, Senate Bill 983, An Act Concerning Children Affected by Disaster and Terrorism, won unanimous approval in the Senate on May 11.
The bill would require the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS) to amend the state's civil preparedness program to include planning and activities aimed at ensuring the safety of children and youth in the event of natural or man-made disasters or terrorism. It also would require DEMHS to report annually to the General Assembly on the status of this work.
In addition, the bill would require schools and all child care providers to adopt plans for safe evacuation in the event of a disaster or terrorism as well as for family reunification afterward. These plans would have to include provisions for children with special needs.
"If a disaster strikes, it is crucial that children are in a safe place and are able to quickly reunite with their parents," said Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, which worked closely with DEMHS and Save the Children-the Westport-based nonprofit recognized around the world as a leader in helping children affected by disaster-in drafting the bill.
Zimmerman noted that Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pay attention to the needs of children and homeland security following the September 11 attacks. For several years afterward, the Commission asked children to express through artwork and writing their thoughts on disasters of all kinds, including the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. (View samples at www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/terrorism/091106_children_disaster.pdf.) Partly in response to the emotions these children expressed, DEMHS formed a special committee to look at the needs of children in disaster.
While 9/11 served as a major impetus, "all of the natural and unnatural disasters we've experienced in recent years-like the trash-to-energy plant explosion in Middletown, the workplace shooting in Manchester, and the various extreme-winter weather events-make it evident we need to have plans in place for all state residents, with specific provisions for children," Zimmerman said.