Disaster Education | VOL. 8, ISSUE 48, May-June 2008

Risk Assessment through Children

Prevention begins with information. Awareness is the first step towards information. Awareness can trigger interest, interest can lead to attention and attention can drive prompt action. As schools are the best venue for sowing collective values, school students and teachers can serve as vehicles for building a culture of prevention. Schools are also often used as emergency shelters and as such should be resilient to disasters.

Disaster risk reduction is everyone’s business. For this to become a reality and a part of daily life, a culture of disaster safety should prevail within the society. Apart from creating disaster education material and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in school curricula it is pertinent to review national education systems to introduce alternative or innovative ways to bring awareness among children, youth, teachers and parents about disaster risk reduction issues. Activities on ground could include assessment of vulnerabilities, mapping hazards and risks, carrying out preparedness activities and making response plans, taking part in mock exercises and emergency drills and helping the community, especially its young and aged, to promptly respond to disasters.

Schools are a path to better life, but can also take the life of our beloved little children if they are vulnerable to disasters. A single event can kill thousands of children in class. Millions of others are at risk too, yet safe schools are achievable, identifiable and durable development investments for the future generation. Part of a disaster management programme should thus entail assessing the vulnerability of school buildings, retrofitting them to build earthquake resistant and prepare an evacuation model in case of fire and other externalities. Schools located in high risk areas should be relocated in low risk areas, especially when they serve as shelters in flood prone regions.

Report of building collapse, fire, earthquake and stampede bring to light the need to be continually vigilant. Disaster proofing is an urgent task in the light of the increased extreme in natural calamities.

School children are a viable and manageable unit of a young and vulnerable section of the population that can quickly grasp as well as assist in spreading community awareness and preparedness. Since emergencies can strike at any time, the child can involve the household in drills that he learnt in school and help prepare an emergency kit in the event of evacuation. As the reaction time when any disaster strikes are minimal, it is a measure of alertness and composure that play a key role in averting casualties. However, preparedness projects face several challenges, which include coordination of teams that understands the needs of the local communities and their perception about disasters. Convincing communities to devote time when they are otherwise busy can be a constraint that may be overcome by training children, who habitually gather in schools. A healthy and trustworthy relationship may be sought where each disaster is outlined and survival techniques taught through drills and programmes.

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