Can public schools serve as communication networks for community disaster medical preparedness and recovery? A review

Gary L. Kreps, Katherine Rowan, Carl H. Botan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: To assess the feasibility of using public schools as communication nodes in community medical disaster preparedness and recovery. Methods: To identify prior work, literature searches were conducted, primarily focusing on disaster medical preparedness and public schools. The literature review focused on the preceding 17 years of English language publications (1995 to April 2011). Major medical electronic data bases, such as Medline (included PubMed), Cochrane Collaboration Library, Communication and Media Complete, Wiley Online Library, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) and U.S. states and federal government websites were queried, using MeSH terms. Relevant government and disaster response organizations websites were prescreened for their applicability to the research objectives. Based on established selection criteria, 33 publications and materials were selected and evaluated using a qualitative rating scale. Results: Adequate experimental or empirical information describing the incorporation of school communication networks in the planning, recovery, and response for community medical disaster was not found in the published literature. Information regarding individual school communication and response plans were primarily located in websites, guidelines and documents published by various agencies, including states, federal government and individual national or international education agencies. This may suggest that, while many have found that their own programmatic needs make it necessary for them to address the central question of this study, little systematic scholarly review or exchange between experts has taken place to date. Therefore, this article may help fill a longstanding need in the emergency medical planning and response community and, by extension, even among state and federal EOP (Emergency Operations Plans) planners and managers. The crisis communications model, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was applied to address communication networks used by schools and communities prior to an event. While not the only available method for disaster communication planning, this model provides a comprehensive understanding of networks and the associated challenges. The five phases of the lifecycle consist of 1) pre-crisis, 2) initial, 3) maintenance, 4) resolution, and 5) evaluation. Although transition through each of these phases varies depending on the nature of the disaster, the lifecycle model provides a useful template for communication guidelines when including public schools in outreach to the community. Discussion: Rapid, timely, and accurate communications across various governmental and state agencies, private sector and the public is challenging but essential. The paucity of information on schools and preparedness for disaster suggests the need for additional, focused research on specific health communication needs and challenges if the important communication nodes of schools are to be incorporated into community communication networks for disaster preparedness and recovery. Conclusions and Policy Implications: Schools should be considered key players in disaster mitigation. Local officials should make timely and accurate communications available to public schools participating in community disaster response and recovery. New policies should stress the importance of communication training for all school staff taking into consideration different student age groups, languages, and special needs. Such training should be tailored to disasters likely to occur in each geographic region as well as different population vulnerabilities; and it should be supported by government and private funding. Limitation: This review addressed primarily public schools and to some degree state universities within the Northern Virginia area in the vicinity of Washington, DC. Private schools and universities were not included because of the difficulty of acquiring information in time to complete this review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalWorld Medical and Health Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Crisis communication
  • Disaster planning
  • Public health emergencies
  • Risk commuication
  • Schools


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