Reuniting children with their families during disasters: A proposed plan for greater success


  • Sarita Chung, MD
  • Michael Shannon, MD, MPH



emergency, emergency department, children, identification, family reunification


In the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, large numbers of children may be separated from their families and caregivers. Many of these children will present for treatment at emergency departments or be evacuated to relocation sites. Depending on their age, some children may not be able to give their name or may be too frightened to give any information, making identification difficult. At the same time, parents will instinctively rush to hospitals to find their children. In the process, parents may unintentionally obstruct medical care, overwhelm an already stressed staff, and violate patient privacy as they frantically search for their children. Currently, there is no system in the United States that effectively expedites the reunification of children with their families when children can not be identified by healthcare or public health personnel.
We propose the creation of a system that employs advanced imaging and feature-extraction technology. We envision a system in which digital images of individual children are captured as they enter a facility, with these images then being automatically transmitted and posted on a secure Web site. Features of each image, such as hair and eye color, would be automatically indexed and cataloged. With the help of trained professionals, parents could enter their child’s features into the system and receive a limited set of images for identification, allowing for rapid reunification of the family. Additional advanced features of such a system will be explored. If successful, the use of such a system would address an important unmet need in pediatric emergency preparedness.

Author Biographies

Sarita Chung, MD

The Center for Biopreparedness, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston, Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Michael Shannon, MD, MPH

The Center for Biopreparedness, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston, Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


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How to Cite

Chung, MD, S., and M. Shannon, MD, MPH. “Reuniting Children With Their Families During Disasters: A Proposed Plan for Greater Success”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 2, no. 3, May 2007, pp. 113-7, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2007.0019.




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