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Dropping your child off at day care or seeing them onto the school bus can be difficult — but what are your plans if the unthinkable happens?

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia do not meet emergency planning standards for schools and child care providers, according to a new report from Save the Children. However, for the first time this year, more than half of states — 29 — reach the non-governmental disaster relief organization's standards in its laws and regulations.

In an accompanying poll, Save the Children found that 69% of parents mistakenly believe their protections are in place.

"This year has a good news/bad news story," said Richard Bland, Save the Children's director for policy and advocacy. "Seven states implemented or put in plans of action to raise standards of emergency preparedness for children, but again, these are the bare-minimum criteria."

The report judges states based on four tenets, distilled from guidelines created by a post-Hurricane Katrina governmental committee, the now-defunct National Commission on Children and Disasters. It looks at states' evacuation and relocation plans, family-child reunification plans, children with special needs plans and K-12 multiple disaster plans.

"Emergencies can strike anywhere, anytime — so a multihazard plan means that you're prepared for three types of emergencies: an evacuation and lockdown for a shooter situation — but also you need a safe room situation for when you're threatened by a natural disaster," Bland said.

He cites the January snowfall in Atlanta as a regionally uncharacteristic event that left thousands of children stuck at school overnight, partly due, he says, to the state government's lack of regulation on when to close schools and how to stagger releases of schools and child care locations.

Bland also sees the year's success stories: "We deployed to Colorado to update their child care standards when the flooding happened, and they have. And when Save the Children deployed in Oklahoma after the tornadoes hit, we were able to work with their government to put plans into place, too."

Along with Colorado and Oklahoma, Alaska, Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas all hit the report card's benchmarks for the first time this year.

In biggest need of improvement, Bland says, are regulations for smaller child care businesses.

"This isn't something that's new to us — ongoing discussions about how to protect children are constant, and we're always looking for newer, better ways," said Karen Cobuluis, spokeswoman for the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), a non-profit organization that provides leadership in emergency management.

Cobuluis said that the four standards are just the beginning. NEMA has been discussing how to handle emerging threats for children, "cyber in particular." But at the core, the mission is the same: "to protect lives and property, and children in disasters are particularly vulnerable."

On a state governmental level, Bland says Save the Children's report cards have had varied reception. Some states think it's not their role to regulate guidelines, he says.

Bland's response: "With more than 69 million kids separated from their parents during an average workday in the U.S., we simply disagree."

Follow @lindsdee on Twitter.

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