Schools do not have any control over some of the hazards that may impact them, such as an earthquake or plane crashes. However, they can take precautions to either minimize or even eliminate such hazards. For example, schools in earthquake-prone areas can secure bookshelves and train students and staff on what to do during a tremor.
School safety and emergency management experts often use the terms mitigation and prevention differently. Crises experts suggest schools should consider the full range of what they can do to avoid or lessen the impact of crises. Here are a few important ideas:
Mitigation and prevention require school administrators to take inventory of the dangers in the school and community. It also means they will need to identify how to prevent and reduce injury and property damage. For example:
Administrators can use community resources to help in the processes above. Firefighters, police, public works staff, facilities managers, and the district’s insurance manager can all help conduct a hazard assessment. You will be able to use the information in the assessment to help identify problems to address in the preparedness process.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says, “The goal of mitigation is to decrease the need for a response as opposed to simply increasing response capability.” Mitigating emergencies is also important from a legal perspective. For example, if a school, district, or state does not take all the necessary actions to prevent an emergency, it could be vulnerable to a negligence suit. It is important to make sure the building is up to local, state, and federal codes.
Creating a safe learning environment should not be new to any school district. Identifying students, and sometimes staff, who may pose a danger to either themselves or each other is called “threat assessment.”
Many schools have programs in place that are aimed to prevent children from initiating harmful behaviors. Social problem-solving for life skills programs, anti-bullying programs, and school-wide discipline efforts are common throughout the United States. The staff in charge of prevention in a school, such as counselors, teachers, health professionals, and administrators, should be part of the crisis planning team.
There are few things to be aware of when looking at mitigation and prevention programs at your school. Below are some suggestions.
Know the school building. Look at potential hazards on campus and conduct regular safety audits of the building. Be sure to include driveways, parking lots, playgrounds, outside structures, and even fencing.
Know the community. Mitigation requires assessment of local threats. Make sure you work with the local emergency management director to assess the surrounding hazards. This assessment includes the identification and assessment of the probability of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornados, or earthquakes, and industrial and/or chemical accidents. Make sure you know the location of major transportation routes and installations. For example, is the school near an airport?
Bring together regional, local, and school leaders. Since mitigation and prevention are community activities, leadership and support of these activities are necessary to make sure the right people are planning.
Make regular school safety and security efforts a normal part of mitigation and prevention practices. Look at the comprehensive school safety plan and its needs to identify what types of accidents are common in the school.
Establish clear lines of communication. Mitigation and prevention planning requires agencies and organizations to work closely together and share important information. In addition to communications within the planning team, outside communications with families and the larger community are important as well. This conveys a visible message that schools and local governments are working together to ensure public safety. Press releases from the governor and chief state school officer that discuss the importance of crisis planning can help open the channels of communication with the public.
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