Children are not small adults. They have special needs based on their physiologic, anatomic, developmental and cognitive attributes, all of which put them at increased risk during a disaster or terrorist event. Some of their unique vulnerabilities in a disaster event include:

  • Developmental and cognitive levels that may impede their ability to escape danger;
  • Age and cognitive development that may not be sufficiently developed to convey medical history or other pertinent information if they become separated from their parents/caregivers;
  • Weight-based medication dosing, as well as appropriately sized equipment and supplies are essential in order to effectively treat children;
  • Children with chronic conditions and special health-care needs are particularly at risk if their survival depends upon medications or medical technology, (e.g. ventilators);
  • Smaller blood volumes and fluid reserves increases their risk for dehydration and shock;
  • Higher respiratory rates puts children at risk for greater exposure to aerosolized agents;
  • More permeable skin and larger skin surface to mass ratio increases their exposure risk to some biological and chemical agents; this also increases their risk for hypothermia;
  • Increased vulnerability to radiation exposure requires a more vigorous medical response than adults;
  • More sensitive to changes in body temperature and a faster metabolism increases their risk for hypothermia/hyperthermia more rapidly than adults; and
  • Children are a higher risk for abduction and abuse during disasters.

Illinois and Pediatric Disaster Preparedness

Currently there are more than 3 million children under the age of 18 in Illinois, and 800,000 of those children are age 5 or younger.

Illinois has a strong commitment to the children in our state, and to assuring preparedness and planning efforts are in place to meet the needs of children in a disaster or terrorism event. In May 2000, the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF) was created with the primary responsibility to ensure statewide preparedness in the event of a terrorist event. This task force established several subcommittees and workgroups to assist in meeting this responsibility.

In 2002 the ITTF Pediatric Bioterrorism Workgroup was created. In 2011, this Workgroup adopted a more all hazards approach and was renamed the Pediatric Preparedness Workgroup. This group is responsible for identifying best practices and developing resources to assist in assuring that the special needs of children are addressed during disasters. This pediatric workgroup is comprised of volunteer physicians, nurses, paramedics, pharmacologists, psychologists, state/local health department personnel as well as representatives from key organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Illinois Association of School Nurses, Illinois Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics, Illinois College of Emergency Physicians, Illinois Hospital Association, Illinois State Council Emergency Nurses Association, Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team, and Illinois Poison Center, among others. Illinois Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) is responsible for chairing and coordinating the activities of the Pediatric Preparedness Workgroup.

Funding through the federal Hospital Preparedness grant program has helped support the activities of the Pediatric Preparedness Workgroup and to fund EMSC positions.