CDC and Children In Disasters

Kids dressed as superheroes

CDC’s Children’s Preparedness Unit (CPU)

One in four people in the United States is less than 18 years old. Children have special vulnerabilities and needs during an emergency.  CDC’s Children’s Preparedness Unit (CPU), housed in the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, champions the needs of children before, during, and after emergencies.

Established in 2012, CPU serves as the agency’s go-to source for children’s needs in public health emergencies. The team includes pediatricians, behavioral scientists, child psychologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, and a dedicated health communications team focused on pediatric preparedness.

The impact on children’s development may not be just one more aspect to consider as part of an emergency–it may be the emergency. The 2015 Zika virus epidemic and the 2016 widespread water contamination in Flint, Michigan, drew national attention because of the direct impact on babies and children. To ensure the healthy development of all children, CPU is dedicated to ensuring children’s needs are included at every level of emergency planning.

CPU takes a collaborative approach to achieving its mission . The unit has a strong track record of working with external groups and internal CDC partners in environmental health, infectious diseases, injury prevention, school health, and global health. CPU works to ensure that children’s needs are front and center during an emergency or other public health crises.

Key External Partners

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
  • U.S. Department of Education (ED)
  • Administration for Children & Families (ACF)
  • Childcare Aware of America (CCAA)
  • Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC)
  • Save the Children (STC)
  • Children’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Interagency Leadership on Disasters Working Group and Subcommittee on Children with Special Healthcare Needs
  • National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters
  • Pediatric and Obstetric Integrated Program Team
  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • World Health Organization
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Active Emergency Responses Counter

Listing number of CDC Emergency Responses in which CPU has participated:

Key Products

Bartenfeld M, Peacock G, Griese S. Public Health Emergency Planning for Children in Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Disasters. Biosecur Bioterror. 2014 Jul-Aug;12(4):201-207. DOI: 10.1089/bsp.2014.0036.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pediatrics and Public Health: Working Together to Prepare for Emergencies. Public Health Matters Blog. 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Planning for Kids: Preparedness and Pediatrics. Public Health Matters Blog. 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zika Virus Response Planning: Interim Guidance for District and School Administrators in the Continental United States and Hawaii. /zika/schools.html.

Franks JL. The Importance of Including Children in Emergency Preparedness. Child Care Aware of America. 2017.

Goodman AB, Dziuban EJ, Powell K, Bitsko BH, Langley G, Lindsey N, Franks JL, Russell K, Dasgupta S, Barfield WD, Odom E, Kahn E, Martin S, Fischer M, Staples JE. Characteristics of Children Aged <18 Years with Zika Virus Disease Acquired Postnatally — U.S. States, January 2015–July 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65:1082-1085. DOI:

Dziuban EJ, Peacock G, Frogel M. A Child’s Health is the Public’s Health: Progress and Gaps in Addressing Pediatric Needs in Public Health Emergencies. Am J Public Health. 2017;107:S134–S137. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303950