The Pediatrician and Disaster Preparedness
Recent natural disasters and events of terrorism and war have heightened society's recognition of the need for emergency preparedness. In addition to the unique pediatric issues involved in general emergency preparedness, several additional issues related to terrorism preparedness must be considered, including the unique vulnerabilities of children to various agents as well as the limited availability of age- and weight-appropriate antidotes and treatments. Although children may respond more rapidly to therapeutic intervention, they are at the same time more susceptible to various agents and conditions and more likely to deteriorate if not monitored carefully.The challenge of dealing with the threat of terrorism, natural disasters, and public health emergencies in the United States is daunting not only for disaster planners but also for our medical system and health professionals of all types, including pediatricians. As part of the network of health responders, pediatricians need to be able to answer concerns of patients and families, recognize signs of possible exposure to a weapon of terror, understand first-line response to such attacks, and sufficiently participate in disaster planning to ensure that the unique needs of children are addressed satisfactorily in the overall process. Pediatricians play a central role in disaster and terrorism preparedness with families, children, and their communities. This applies not only to the general pediatrician but also to the pediatric medical subspecialist and pediatric surgical specialist. Families view pediatricians as their expert resource, and most of them expect the pediatrician to be knowledgeable in areas of concern. Providing expert guidance entails educating families in anticipation of events and responding to questions during and after actual events. It is essential that pediatricians educate themselves regarding these issues of emergency preparedness. For pediatricians, some information is currently available on virtually all of these issues in recently produced printed materials, at special conferences, in broadcasts of various types, and on the Internet. However, selecting appropriate, accurate sources of information and determining how much information is sufficient remain difficult challenges. Similarly, guidance is needed with respect to developing relevant curricula for medical students and postdoctoral clinical trainees.
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