Recent natural disasters have significantly impacted communities and their education institutions. Since 2017, there have been over 300 presidentially declared major disasters across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Outlying Areas. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) closely follows the impacts of natural disasters on students, educators, staff, families, and others. Schools are a critical aspect of whole community recovery and provide education, nutrition, physical 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 critical that these resources remain available to the community and that schools are reopened and operating as soon as possible. In 2018, to better assist schools in dealing with impacts of natural disasters, ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education formed a Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) with the goal of increasing resources dedicated to K-12 schools disaster recovery efforts. ED’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office and Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) offer support to postsecondary schools.
ED has curated resources, including those developed by other federal agencies and organizations, for restoring the teaching and learning environment at Natural Disaster Resources | U.S. Department of Education. Below are some examples of helpful resources.
ED resources for K-12 communities after natural disasters:
- Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) Technical Assistance: OESE offers technical assistance across grant programs to support grantees and address K-12 educational needs, including needs associated with restarting operations, re-enrolling students, and reopening public or non-public elementary and secondary schools after a natural disaster. Information and resources, organized by topical areas, include websites, webinars, guidance documents, practice briefs, and tools created by OESE, OESE’s technical assistance centers, and other partners across 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 for Homeless Children and Youth Program.
- 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 those with disabilities, cope with disasters.
- The Center for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS): Developed a guide that describes the use of a multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) framework to support students, families, and educators during the transitions back to school during and following a crisis in the manner that prioritizes their health and safety, social and emotional needs, and behavioral and academic growth. While this guide is geared toward returning to school after a pandemic, it is applicable 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, gives 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 to domestic and foreign Title IV-eligible institutions and school community stakeholders in the wake of and in response to natural disasters ranging from tornadoes, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. FSA collaborates across ED to reach out to the leadership of schools in impacted regions and offer key reminders and information about the special resources available to institutions affected by disasters. Current guidance from Federal Student Aid on disaster impacted areas for participating Title IV institutions can continue to be found on the Knowledge Center at https://fsapartners.ed.gov/knowledge-center/topics/natural-disaster-information
- Office of Postsecondary Education provides technical assistance and support to grantees that need to adjust activities and budgets as a result of natural disasters. Contact information for staff regarding grants can be found at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/contacts.html.
- The Emergency Response Unit within the Office of Postsecondary Education manages the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). HEERF grants must be used to prevent, prepare for, or respond to the pandemic. Institutions may use HEERF to provide emergency financial aid grants directly to students, which may be used for any component of their cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise, including housing and food. Students receipt of HEERF emergency financial aid grants should be prioritized based on exceptional need, which may include needs that have arisen as a result of the recent hurricanes. Institutions should carefully document how they determine exceptional need. 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 additional questions, contact the Emergency Response Unit at [email protected].
ED resources for pre-K through higher education after natural disasters:
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center: Supports education agencies, with their community partners, manage safety, security, and emergency management programs. The REMS TA Center helps to build the preparedness capacity (including prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts) of schools, school districts, institutions of higher education, and their community partners at the local, state, and federal levels. REMS TA Center also serves as the primary source of information dissemination for schools, districts, and IHEs for emergencies.
- Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV): The program provides short-term immediate funding for districts and IHEs that have experienced a violent or traumatic incident to assist in restoring a safe environment conducive to learning. At the discretion of the Secretary of Education, funding amounts and project periods may be identified (subject to the availability of appropriations) to reflect the scope of the incident and potential recovery needs. The application process is intended not to be burdensome. Funding for Project SERV awards typically range 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 Distress Helpline (Spanish) that provides crisis counseling. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (for Spanish, press “2”) to be connected to a trained counselor.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Caring for Children in a Disaster: Offers simple steps through a collection of resources to protect children in emergency situations and help meet their needs during and after a disaster.
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): Established to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events. The network provides resource for different types of trauma and evidence-based treatments that work.
- The NCTSN also has resources for responders on Psychological First Aid (PFA; En Español). PFA is an early intervention to support children, adolescents, adults, and families impacted by these types of events. The PFA Wallet Card (En Español) provides a quick reminder of the core actions. The PFA online training (En Español) course 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 (SPR; En Español) and take the SPR Online course (En Español).
Please note: These links represent a few examples of the numerous reference materials currently available to the public. The inclusion of resources should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any private organization or business listed herein.