- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia is among 21 states failing to protect kids during natural disasters, particularly those who spend their days at child care centers throughout the state, according to a new report from a child aid organization released Tuesday.

The report, produced by Save the Children, found Georgia doesn’t require child care centers to have plans that lay out how children with disabilities will be cared for during an emergency, how kids will be evacuated and relocated and how they will be reunited with family members.

After Hurricane Katrina, the National Commission on Children and Disasters reviewed the nation’s disaster preparation and made final recommendations in 2010. Save the Children boiled those recommendations down to four areas for schools and child care providers: evacuation and relocation plans, family-child reunification plans, special-needs-student plans and a written emergency plan at all K-12 schools.

Reg Griffin, a spokesman for the Department of Early Care and Learning, which oversees child care providers, said child care programs must submit a written plan on how they will handle emergencies including evacuation strategy to get a license in Georgia. They also are required to conduct monthly fire drills and other emergency drills twice a year. Griffin said reuniting small children with their families has not been a problem.

“This report card is new to us and we are still reviewing its findings,” he said. “However, DECAL has proven in the past to be very effective in building consensus across multiple state agencies to always improve and do what is best for Georgia’s youngest learners.”

Georgia did get credit for requiring all K-12 schools to have an emergency plan. About half of the state’s Pre-K classes are also covered under those school plans, Griffin said.

The report’s authors focused on a January storm that crippled the Atlanta metro area, stranding some students at schools or on buses overnight and angering parents. The storm’s effects demonstrate the importance of preparing staff, students and parents about what will happen in a variety of emergencies, the authors wrote.

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