Crises can affect every student and staff member in a school facility. Despite the fact of everyone’s efforts at crisis prevention, they still will happen. However, good planning will facilitate a rapid, coordinated, and effective response when the crisis occurs. Being well-prepared does require an investment of time and resources, but the chance to reduce injury and save lives outweighs the negatives.
It is impractical for all schools to work individually with emergency responders and other local agencies. It is then necessary to find the right balance and to assign district and school roles early.
Set a realistic timetable for the preparation process. You will not be able to create a comprehensive crisis plan overnight. Make sure to take the time to collect essential information, develop the plan, and involve the appropriate people. You should also start by identifying who should be involved in developing the crisis plan. Delegating responsibilities and putting the process down in manageable steps will help planners develop the plan.
The next few tabs will take a look at a few other steps to take when creating a crisis plan.
These are the people who are concerned about the safety of the school and the people who will call for help when a crisis happens. Ask them to provide feedback on sections of the plan that pertain to them.
During this process, create working relationships with emergency responders as well. It is important to learn how they function and how you will work with them during a crisis.
It is also essential to work closely with city and county emergency planners. You will need to know the kinds of support schools can provide during a crisis. For example, city and county planners may want to use a school as an emergency shelter or a supply depot.
Before starting to develop your crisis plan, look at existing plans, such as those of the district and local government. Ask the following questions:
Take a look at your schools vulnerabilities, needs, and assets to determine what defines a crisis for your school. Do this before assigning roles and responsibilities or collecting supplies needed during a crisis.
Also, describe the types of crises the plan addresses. This includes local hazards and problems identified from safety audits, evaluations, and assessments conducted during the mitigation/prevention phase (See Module 2). Also, make sure you prepare for incidents that occur while students are off-site, such as during a field trip.
How will the school operate during a crisis? Create an organizational system. In other words, define what will happen, when, and at whose direction.
School staff should be assigned the following roles:
During the planning process, administrators need to assign both individuals and backups to fill the above roles. Also, if the district has not appointed a public information officer (PIO), it should do so right away. Larger school districts have staff who are only dedicated to this function. However, small districts use the superintendent, school security officers, or principal as their PIO.
Make sure you address how to get crisis information out in the most effective way to those who are directly or indirectly involved. One of the first steps for communication is to develop a mechanism to notify students and staff that an incident is occurring and then to instruct them on what to do. It is also important to determine how to best give information to them by using codes for evacuation and lockdown.
Figure out the best way to communicate with families, community members, and the media during a crisis. You may want to write template letters and press releases in advance. This will prevent staff members from doing this during the chaos and confusion of a crisis.
Staff members need to have all the necessary equipment readily available to respond to a crisis. Make sure there are enough master keys for emergency responders so that they can have immediate access to the school.
Prepare response kits for secretaries, nurses, and teachers. For example, a nurse’s kit might include student and emergency medicines (“anaphylaxis kits,” which may require physician’s orders, for use in breathing emergencies such as severe, sudden allergic reactions), as well as first aid supplies. A teacher’s kit might include a crisis management reference guide, as well as an updated student roster.
When a crisis occurs, quickly determine whether students and staff need to be evacuated from the building, returned to the building, or locked down in the building. Plan action steps for each of these scenarios.
Evacuation requires ALL students and staff to leave the building. Although evacuating to the school’s field may be the most logical for shorter time frames, it might not be the best location for longer periods of time. The evacuation plan should include backup buildings to serve as emergency shelters, such as nearby community centers, churches, businesses, or other schools. The evacuation plan should take into account weather conditions, such as rain, snow, and extreme cold and heat. Your plan should also include transportation options for students who are disabled or unable to walk to the shelter.
If an incident occurs while students are outside, make sure to get them safely back in the building. You may find you need to lockdown the facility.
Lockdowns are called for when a crisis happens outside of the school, and an evacuation would be dangerous. Emergency responders may call for a lockdown when there is a crisis inside the school and movement would endanger students and staff members. During a lockdown, all exterior doors are locked. Students and staff must stay in their classrooms and windows may also need to be covered.
A shelter-in place is used when there is not enough time to evacuate or when it would be harmful to leave the building, such as during hazardous material spills. Students and staff stay in the building, and windows and doors are sealed. There can be limited movement throughout the building.
When there is a crisis, make sure to account for all students, staff, and visitors. Emergency responders treat a situation very differently if someone is missing. For example, when a bomb threat occurs, the stakes are a lot higher if firefighters do not know whether there are students in the school while they are trying to locate or disarm a bomb.
Be sure to communicate with family members about release procedures before a crisis occurs. Many times, families flock to the school and want to collect their children immediately. A method should be in place for tracking student release.
Preparedness includes emergency drills and crisis exercises for both students and staff members. Many times, training and practice identify issues that need to be addressed before a crisis occurs. Teachers also need to be trained on how to deal and manage students during a crisis, especially those experiencing panic reactions.
Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.
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