Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) authored and introduced the "Secure America for Education in Our Schools Act" or the "S.A.F.E. in Our Schools Act," which would require each State applying for State Homeland Security Grant Program funding to certify that it requires schools to have adequate emergency preparedness plans in place in case of disaster. At a Subcommittee Hearing entitled, "Assessing the Nation's State of Preparedness: A Federal, State, and Local Perspective," Kathy Spangler, Vice President of U.S. Programs at Save the Children commended Rep. Payne, Jr. on his efforts and fully endorsed the SAFE in Our Schools Act.
"Every day while more than 50 million children go to school, most Americans take for granted that their child will be safe once they walk through the school house doors," said Rep. Payne, Jr., Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications and author of the bill. "Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Most recently we have seen an increase in the number of natural and man-made disasters that put our children in danger, from Hurricane Sandy and the shootings at Newtown, to the Oklahoma tornadoes and the Colorado floods. We have a responsibility to protect our children, and I want to thank Save the Children for their support of my legislation and for all of their hard work in making sure that our children remain a priority in our disaster planning and preparedness efforts."
"Past experience has shown us that children have unique needs when it comes to preparing for and responding to emergencies and potential disasters," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and co-sponsor of the bill. "Too often, these needs are not met when state and local governments craft homeland security preparedness policy. I commend Ranking Member Payne, Jr. for introducing the "S.A.F.E. in Our Schools Act' which will ensure that schools have the proper preparedness plans in place in case of emergency."
Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress established a National Commission on Children and Disasters to assess the unique needs of children related to the preparation for, response to, and recovery from all hazards, including major disasters and emergencies. In 2010, the Commission identified four essential components to a basic school and child care facilities preparedness plan. These four essential components include: (1) an evacuation and relocation plan; (2) a family-child reunification plan; (3) a plan for children with special needs; and (4) a plan for addressing multiple disasters.
The SAFE in our Schools Act would require all States applying for State Homeland Security Grant Program funding to show that it requires its schools to have an emergency plan that meets the four essential criteria outlined in the 2010 National Commission on Children and Disasters.
"Right now, 28 states do not require schools and child care facilities to have emergency preparedness and resiliency plans that fully address these four essential components, while 7 states do not require K-12 schools to have multiple disaster plans," continued Rep. Payne, Jr. "I am proud to say that New Jersey is one of the few states that addresses all four emergency preparedness criteria. I believe that every state owes it to our children, who are the most vulnerable among us, to have a plan in place that ensures schools are prepared for and resilient against any disaster."