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Is disaster planning neglecting children?

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CHICAGO — A national pediatricians' group is calling on doctors to ensure that children's needs are not neglected in disaster planning.

Doctors should volunteer for medical response teams and help schools, day-care centers and families plan for both natural disasters, such as hurricanes, and terrorist attacks, says an American Academy of Pediatrics' disaster planning policy statement appearing today in the journal Pediatrics.

"In mass casualty events, kids seem to lose out on nearly all counts," said Dr. Steven Krug, the statement's co-author and head of pediatric emergency medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Children are more vulnerable to radiation, chemical agents and biotoxins because they breathe faster, their hearts pump faster and their cells are duplicating at higher rates than adults, Krug said. Their emotional immaturity also makes their response to trauma different, and they must rely on adults for basic safety instructions.

An experience such as decontamination might be more tolerable for children if hospitals keep families together, rather than separating each person, Krug said.

Doctors should have disaster plans for their offices and be ready to convert them into emergency care sites, the policy statement says. They should register for state and local notification systems so they are on the list of people informed of disasters.

Pediatricians who wrote the policy finished their work before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Krug said. But lessons from the storm, such as how long it's taken to reunite families with their missing children, should give planners pause.

"It's a reminder to members of our organization and to others that we need to better consider the needs of kids," he said.

Von Roebuck, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, said the National Strategic Stockpile has taken steps to ensure that medicines and supplies appropriate for children are available.

On the Net:

Pediatrics: www.pediatrics.org/