In order to contextualize the articles in this special issue, this introductory article surveys the relevant literature from recent disasters in mostly developed countries in order to explore the wider role of schools in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. This introductory article for the Pastoral Care in Education special issue on children and young people in disaster contexts aims to synthesize some relevant and recent research on the role of schools and their communities in disaster settings, in particular in the three countries that are the focus of this special issue – Australia, New Zealand and Japan, in order to contextualize the articles that follow. The first section argues that as schools are hubs of their communities, it is important to understand the literature on communities in disaster contexts. This is followed by recent examples of school experiences of disasters, particularly in Japan, New Zealand and Australia. The final section synthesizes the literature on children and young people in disaster contexts. The article closes with a set of recommendations for integrating schools into disaster planning.
There is very little in the disaster literature about the part schools have played or could play in a coordinated way in wider disaster preparedness, response and recovery. As this literature review has shown, there is a place for schools in all phases of the disaster process. Even small communities have schools and they have “glue effect” on the society. Schools have both the physical facilities and the personnel to respond quickly to an emergency.
Yet, the literature also shows that, despite well-recorded stories of the heroic and altruistic efforts of school leaders and staff, there is no preparation for this huge undertaking. In order to reach this potential, here are some final suggestions.
- The design or upgrading of school buildings ensures that they provide adequate protection of the school population in the event of a damaging event (as is appropriate for the school’s geographic and risk location).
- School facilities are designed in a flexible manner so that they can be used in a range of community ways, including in the event of an emergency.
- The school and local community develop emergency plans and scenarios collaboratively, in conjunction with relevant government agencies and disaster response organizations.
- School leaders have professional development in crisis planning and management.
- Teachers and other school staff have professional development on school-based strategies for emergency response and recovery.
- Children and young people are considered and engaged fully in each part of preparedness, response and recovery planning.