Magazine article Public Management

Helpine Children Separated by Disasters: NCMEC Provides Free Online Registry

Magazine article Public Management

Helpine Children Separated by Disasters: NCMEC Provides Free Online Registry

Article excerpt

The figure is staggering: 5,192 children were separated from their parents during hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. It took eight months after those storms made landfall to reunite the last child with family members.

A significant number of children made disaster shelters their homes until their legal guardians were identified and located. Some of these children were either too young or too traumatized to speak for themselves, making their identification more challenging.

Keeping tabs on the unaccompanied minors proved difficult as some were passed from agency to agency or across state lines with little or no paper trail. Families traveled from state to state to flee the disaster-affected area, which also added to the reunification challenges with their children.

Local law enforcement, social services, and emergency management agencies also were inundated with other competing priorities and human services-related needs. All of these factors added to reunification challenges and delays.

National Registry to the Rescue

Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress authorized the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to establish the National Emergency Child Locator Center, a call center designated to support an influx of child reunification-related calls, as stated in the 2006 Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act.

Working in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), NCMEC has developed the Unaccompanied Minors Registry (UMR), which is a free, online data collection tool that makes the swift reunification of children a top priority. UMR creates a central location to share, store, and retrieve information on children separated as a result of a disaster. UMR's national portal is continuously available to reunification experts as well as the general public. …

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