LFA Members Help Schools and Educators Impacted by Disasters

By Richard M. Long

LFA Executive Director Richard Long discusses ways educators can help their colleagues who have been impacted by the recent hurricanes, wildfires, and Las Vegas shootings, and help prepare for the next disaster that may hit home.

Richard Long will appear on Education Talk Radio on Nov. 1 at 9 a.m. EDT to discuss disaster relief and efforts by LFA member associations. Listen to the podcast at

We have all been hearing about disasters striking parts of the US, disasters that seem to be growing in intensity and frequency.

Many educators and students are dealing with these life-shattering events. LFA wants to provide a window into the work of many people striving to make a difference and provide ideas on how to help.

The problems come in many forms.  In the immediacy of a disaster, schools are frequently used as emergency shelters to provide a safe haven, providing a place for evacuees to sleep, eat, and simply be away from immediate physical danger. In some places, this means the school building stops being a school and is a shelter for neighbors, strangers, kids who go to the school, and for the adults who staff the schools.

However, during many of these recent disasters, schools have been destroyed or significantly damaged.  In Puerto Rico, for example, all 1,200 school buildings were impacted, at the very least by having no power.  Even for those covered by insurance, it will take time for the materials and construction workers to get to the island.  In terms of insurance, it is also unclear if this will be enough and if the insurance covers books, computers, TV’s and other tools that make a building a school.  And, these too will take years to replace.  One lesson for the education community is that district officials should make sure that that all schools have adequate insurance– both for their physical plants and their materials, as well as access to the capital markets they will need for long-term recovery.

But beyond the physical plants, there is other damage: the trauma of having one’s home, community, and sense of safety ripped from them. Again, like the physical scares of buildings being damaged, there is a range of impact on children and adults who attend and work in the damaged schools. Some of this too will take years to process and recover.

So, what is being done?

  1. Many educators are contributing money to their education associations to provide immediate relief and long-term support.  Go to your professional association’s website and see where they are asking for contributions. Money is portable and can be used to buy what is specifically needed.
  2. Contribute to Project Agua by the American Federation of Teachers – is working to provide clean water, as it is lacking, in many parts of Puerto Rico.  The simple truth is without power there is no way to move the water, clean it, and store it.  Without clean water the rate of disease and death will be catastrophic.
  3. Support the work of the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to send experienced school leaders to help educators in Puerto Rico reopen more than 1,200 schools. 
  4. The National Education Association is providing a range of supports to educators who have been impacted by natural disasters, including financial assistance and curriculum support.  (http://www.nea.org/harvey)
  5. Information on how to help students and adults suffering from trauma can be found in several places, including the American School Counselor Association.  While they have materials and guidance on natural disasters, they also have information on the impact of mass shootings.  This information can be found at: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/shooting-resources. Discovery Communications also has material on posttraumatic stress disorders and students at: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/PTSD-Hurricane/
  6. LFA provides a compilation of tools that several organizations have developed, including resources on that provide resources for prevention and preparedness. Our member CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) has a preparedness guide to help IT officials secure technology and managing IT issues after a disaster. 
  7. The US Department of Education has forms to help schools get the waivers from statutes and regulatory requirements.  Go to https://www.ed.gov/hurricane-help?src=feature

Recovery is an opportunity for preparedness, so the education community should be looking to expand the number of counselors who have been trained in trauma, programs to work with organizations like the National PTA to reach out to parents, as well as new curricula to help students understand and prepare for the inevitable.  This will not happen automatically, this takes time and money.

Let’s not get lost in the formality of policy; it is time to act.  This rebuilding will need our support for many years, so please continuously check with your education association for the next several years to see what is needed now and in the future.  And at home, make sure that your school and community is thinking about prevention and preparation.



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girl in Puerto Rico