An emergency can happen at any time, and parents and caregivers depend on schools to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect students during these critical events. School emergency operations plans (EOPs) do just that. An EOP is a framework for responding to emergencies and is most effective when it is developed in collaboration with school representatives and first responders. A well-rounded EOP takes an “all-hazards” approach to cover every type of emergency event—from natural disasters to violence, self-harm, COVID-19, and more.
An EOP shouldn’t be a static document. As of February 2019, 24 of 50 states require annual reviews of EOPs and three states require periodic reviews every few years. However, even if your state does not specify a timeframe, schools should regularly review and update the EOP, ideally on a yearly basis.
How to Review & Update Your School District’s EOP
Updating your school district’s emergency operations plan will most commonly involve:
A Risk Assessment
The most important part of the review process, a risk assessment should always be completed by certified professionals who are highly trained in evaluating the good, weak, and dangerous areas of a school. During the risk assessment, the professionals will:
- Complete a security audit to identify any weak or dangerous areas on school grounds and facilities
- Compile crime and school incidence data to map out the times and building locations where infractions most commonly occur
- Identify which areas of weakness should be addressed first based on the safety hazards that pose the most imminent threats
- Document the corrective action that needs to be taken
- Establish a timeline for completing corrective actions
Identifying New Hazards
EOPs should be regularly reviewed and updated to accommodate new hazards. A prime example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic. While most school emergency operations plans likely had protocols in place to address medical hazards, this virus was unlike anything school districts had dealt with before. For the majority of 2020, COVID-19 closed down most schools entirely. In order to reopen schools and provide students and faculty with a safe environment, school districts had to implement new protocols and procedures, such as mask and social distancing guidelines and screening staff and students for virus symptoms. This meant schools had to revise their EOPs to accommodate for safety protocols specific to COVID-19.
A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic isn’t the only reason to revise an EOP, though. Cybersecurity issues are a growing threat to school security and require school districts to identify strategies to handle data breaches, phishing scares, malware attempts, and other problems. Natural disasters and severe weather events have caused shifts in emergency protocols, too. For example, you may want to plan for additional safety drills for tornadoes, flash floods, earthquakes, fire, and severe weather. An EOP may also need to be updated if any buildings on the school grounds underwent renovations over the summer.
Evaluating the Needs of the Community
An important element of any EOP is accommodating students with diverse backgrounds. This includes students with physical disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, and students living in impoverished communities. If your school district’s previous EOP doesn’t have provisions that provide the safety resources these students need, it should be updated. The following questions may help your team discover the right protocols to put in place to help these students:
- What are the evacuation protocols for students with disabilities, for example, those in wheelchairs?
- How will your school district ensure students with limited English proficiency understand what to do during an active assailant threat?
- What critical weather events may have a particular impact on schools in your district?
Guide to Developing Your School District’s Emergency Operations Plan
Developing an effective EOP for your school district is a highly collaborative process that typically involves six steps:
- Step 1: Form a collaborative team – Build a diverse team of experts to help develop the district’s EOP. It should include school personnel, student and parent representatives, and first responders.
- Step 2: Understand the situation – Before putting together your EOP, conduct a security audit to identify possible threats and hazards on school grounds and then have a certified professional come in to perform a comprehensive risk assessment to evaluate which threats will be directly addressed in the plan.
- Step 3: Determine goals and objectives – After the team has determined threats to address in the plan, it’s time to develop and prioritize goals (desired outcomes before, during, and after an incident) as well as objectives (measurable actions that are needed to achieve goals) in response to each threat.
- Step 4: Plan development – The team establishes specific courses of actions that are needed to accomplish the objectives listed in step 3, taking into account the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how” of each action.
- Step 5: Plan preparation, review, and approval – The team drafts a version of the EOP and then conducts a thorough review. After that, the plan is sent for official approval.
- Step 6: Plan implementation and maintenance – In this final step, the EOP is put into action. Those involved in training and implementation learn their roles and responsibilities. Regularly reviewing and updating the plan is also a critical part of this step.
EOP Support from a Trusted Leader in Safety & Preparedness Solutions
Developing and maintaining your school district’s EOP is an important task, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the steps, considerations, and necessary compliance measures. Between keeping track of students and their emergency contacts, training students and faculty on emergency protocols, and handling first responder resources, there’s a lot involved to ensure a safe school culture. Navigate360 is here to help. We are a leading provider of school safety and preparedness solutions. Our Emergency Management Suite (EMS) was created to help school districts develop, execute, and maintain effective EOPs.
EMS empowers schools to implement safety protocols that enable staff to respond with speed and confidence in an emergency. Using our Safety Plan Wizard, schools can build, maintain, and disseminate critical safety and emergency plans. Our wizard is a one-of-a-kind, intuitive guide that helps schools create their EOPs efficiently, eliminating the complexities commonly involved in this process. Best of all, our wizard understands state requirements and will ensure your EOP is in compliance with all standards. With our Safety Plan Wizard, schools can also:
- Access the plan anywhere at any time, as it is housed in a secure, cloud-based environment
- Easily make changes and manage updates that can be pushed to all users immediately
- Store critical safety information in Virtual Binders for fast access during emergencies
- Build out emergency procedures for real-time critical events
EMS also facilitates security audits and risk assessments conducted by certified experts to provide your district with summarized reports and detailed recommendations to improve safety on your school grounds.
If you’d like to discuss the benefits of Navigate360’s Emergency Management Suite, contact us today.