Recent natural disasters have had a significant impact on communities and their educational institutions. Since 2017, there have been more than 300 major disasters declared by the President in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and outlying regions of the United States. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) closely tracks the impacts of natural disasters on students, educators, staff, families, and others. Schools are a critical aspect of the entire community’s recovery and provide education, nutrition, fitness, mental health counseling and other resources to students and their families during day-to-day operations. When schools close after a natural disaster, it is essential that these resources remain available to the community and that schools are reopened and functioning as soon as possible. In 2018, to better support schools in coping with the impacts of natural disasters, the ED Office of Primary and Secondary Education formed a Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) with the aim of increasing dedicated resources K-12 school disaster recovery efforts. ED’s Federal Office of Student Aid (FSA) and Office of Post-Secondary Education (OPE) provide support for post-secondary schools.
ED has organized resources, including those developed by other federal agencies and organizations, to restore the teaching and learning environment at Natural Resources in Disaster | US Department of Education. Below are some examples of useful resources.
ED Resources for K-12 Communities After Natural Disasters:
- Technical assistance from the Office of Primary and Secondary Education (OESE): OESE offers technical assistance through the grant programs to support grantees and meet K-12 education needs, including needs associated with restarting operations, re-enrolling students, and reopening primary schools. and public or non-public secondary after a natural disaster. Information and resources, organized by thematic areas, include websites, webinars, guidance documents, practice notes and tools created by OESE, OESE Technical Assistance Centers and other partners from ED and government to support K-12 education programs.
- The National Center for Homeless Education: Operates ED’s Technical Assistance and Information Center for the Federal Education Program for Homeless Children and Youth.
- Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center | Disaster Planning and Trauma Response page: Provides resources and links from federal agencies and national organizations to help families and children, including people with disabilities, cope with disasters.
- The Center for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS): Development of a guide that outlines the use of a Multi-Level Support Systems (MTSS) framework to support students, families, and educators during transitions to school during and after a crisis in a way that prioritizes their health and safety, social and emotional needs, and behavioral and academic growth. Although this guide focuses on returning to school after a pandemic, it applies to all natural disasters. See https://www.pbis.org/resource/returning-to-school-during-and-after-crisis.
- Dr. Brandi Simonsen, co-director of the PBIS Center, takes a video tour of all the resources and strategies available to educators as they return to school after the pandemic (or after any crisis) at https://www.pbis.org/video/returning-to-school-resources-tour.
ED Resources for Higher Education Communities After Natural Disasters:
- Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides outreach and support services to Title IV eligible domestic and foreign institutions and school community stakeholders following and in response to natural disasters such as tornadoes, wildfires, floods , hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. The FSA works through the ED to reach school leaders in affected regions and offer reminders and key information about special resources available to disaster-affected institutions. Current Federal Student Aid guidance on disaster-affected areas for Title IV participating institutions can continue to be found on the Knowledge Center at https://fsapartners.ed.gov/knowledge-center/topics/natural-disaster-information
- The Office of Post-Secondary Education provides technical assistance and support to grantees who need to adjust their activities and budgets following natural disasters. Staff contact information regarding grants can be found at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/contacts.html.
- The Emergency Response Unit within the Office of Post-Secondary Education manages the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). HEERF grants are to be used to prevent, prepare for, or respond to the pandemic. Institutions can use HEERF to provide emergency financial aid grants directly to students, which can be used for any element of their tuition or for emergency costs that arise, including housing and the food. Students receiving emergency financial aid grants from HEERF should be prioritized based on their exceptional needs, which may include needs arising from recent hurricanes. Facilities should carefully document how they determine exceptional needs. Institutions cannot direct or control what students use their emergency financial aid grants on, as funds must be provided directly to students. See https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/arpfaq.pdf. For any additional questions, contact the Emergency Response Unit at HEERF@ed.gov.
ED Resources for Pre-K to Higher Education After Natural Disasters:
- Emergency Preparedness and Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center: Assists education organizations, with their community partners, in managing safety, security and emergency management programs. The REMS TA Center helps build preparedness capacity (including prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery efforts) of schools, school districts, higher education institutions and their partners communities at the local, state and federal levels. REMS TA Center also serves as the primary source of information dissemination for schools, districts, and IHEs in the event of an emergency.
- School Emergency Response to Violence Project (SERV Project): The program provides immediate, short-term funding to districts and IHEs that have experienced a violent or traumatic incident to help restore a safe and supportive learning environment. At the discretion of the Secretary of Education, funding amounts and project periods may be identified (subject to funding availability) to reflect the scope of the incident and potential recovery needs. The application process is intended not to be heavy. SERV Project scholarship funding typically ranges from $50,000 to $150,000.
Other resources from federal agencies and national organizations after natural disasters:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Supports a Disaster Hotline (Spanish) which provides advice in the event of a crisis. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (for Spanish, press “2”) to be connected with a qualified advisor.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Caring for Children in Disasters: Provides simple steps through a collection of resources to protect children in emergencies and help meet their needs during and after a disaster.
- The National Network on Traumatic Stress in Children (NCTSN): Created to improve access to care, treatment and services for traumatized children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events. The network provides resources for different types of trauma and evidence-based treatments that work.
- NCTSN also has resources for responders on Psychological first aid (PFA; In Spanish). The AFP is an early intervention to support children, adolescents, adults and families affected by these types of events. The PFA wallet card (In Spanish) provides a quick reminder of the main actions. The PAF online training (In Spanish) is also available on the NCTSN Learning Center.
- For community and mental health providers who plan to continue working with affected communities long-term, review Skills for psychological recovery (RPS; In Spanish) and take the Online SPR courses (In Spanish).
Please note: These links represent a few examples of the many reference documents currently available to the public. The inclusion of resources should not be construed or construed as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any private organization or company listed herein.