Is your school prepared to handle an emergency? From natural disasters to violent or critical incidents, schools need detailed emergency plans to protect people on school property. Additionally, they have a responsibility to teach those people how to follow these well-constructed plans.
See how your school can improve student and staff safety with these top 5 ways to enhance school emergency preparedness:
- Develop an Emergency Plan
- Develop a Crisis Response Team
- Develop a Communication Plan
- Provide Regular Practice & Training
- Partner with a Safety Expert
Develop an Emergency Plan
A well-organized, comprehensive emergency plan includes instructions in sequential order for a variety of possible situations. It also prioritizes notification of emergency response personnel and is designed to limit escalation and injury. Once complete, the plan needs reviewed and updated annually.
Explore the benefits of including these items in your school emergency plan:
- Steps to take during specific disasters
- Emergency contact information for local authorities (police, fire/EMS, hospitals, poison control, health department, children’s services, etc.), utility companies, property management, insurance agencies, etc.
- Evacuation site location(s) on school grounds (for fire) and off school grounds (for bomb threats, chemical spills or other larger-scale disasters)
- Disaster response roles (determine who calls 911, communicates instructions within the building, leads student/parent reunification efforts, etc.)
- Reunification procedures
- Post-emergency crisis response actions
- Drill schedules and records
- Building maps
- Building system locations (alarm control panels, gas, sprinkler and other shut-off valves, etc.)
Local or state governing bodies may provide a specific format to follow, or a certain list of emergencies for each school to prepare for. Depending on your location, your school may be required to complete additional drills for natural disasters. For example, schools in California may perform regular earthquake drills. By contrast, schools in the Midwest – where earthquakes are far less prevalent may simply have procedures in place. Whether your school practices drills or just has prepared contingency plans, schools must consider all potential emergency scenarios.
A fire emergency might be the most common disaster schools prepare for. Start by making all students and staff aware of fire escape routes, and practice them during fire drills (for frequency requirements, check your local regulations). Clearly post these routes in each classroom, and teach everyone to exit the school as quickly as possible when alerted to fire. Stress the importance of best safety practices like remaining low to the ground and avoiding smoke inhalation by covering noses and mouths with clothing. Teach kids to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothes catch fire. In case students get separated during evacuation, train them to meet outside at a specific parking lot or area of the playground.
Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, winter storms, landslides and other natural disasters can happen at any time – sometimes with little or zero warning. If forecasters predict these events, schools may have time to evacuate or take other safety precautions. The plan should outline what happens during that time, whether it means closing the school early to avoid snowy/icy travel conditions later in the day, or it means taking shelter away from windows during a tornado. If the plan requires relocating to a safe space away from school property, it should also outline how students will travel to any off-site location (for example, walking or by bus). Additionally, it should clearly state how parents will be notified to retrieve and sign out their children.
The threat of an active shooter attack is rare but very real. To be prepared, schools may consider partnering with an active shooter response training program (especially if it offers a wide variety of age-appropriate training options). The plan might outline who alerts law enforcement and actively communicates the location of the shooter throughout the school, but an options-based training program empowers teachers and students to decide whether they need to evacuate or lockdown based on the shooter’s location. Include procedures about accounting for students and completing parent/student reunification. Because of the traumatic nature of this event, it’s also wise to plan for trauma response training afterward.
Now that we’ve experienced COVID-19, schools are better equipped to prepare for future pandemics. In this case, preparedness requires access to technology for remote learning; extra cleaning supplies and hygiene routines; and a designated isolation room for sick students or teachers (among other necessities). We’ve also learned the importance of aligning with local health authorities for consistent guidance county-wide. The plan will vary based on a future disease’s symptoms and its ability to spread, but we absolutely must plan for over-communication with parents and staff throughout the pandemic.
In addition to specific emergency plans, be sure to make action plans for other situations, such as:
- Missing child
- Gas leak
- Bomb threat
- Field trip incident
- Assault on child or staff
Having a rough plan in place with roles and responsibilities designated to various staff will take decision-making pressure off administrators during an already stressful situation. Talk about the possibility of an off-site reunification location if a gas leak or bomb threat makes it unsafe to remain on school property.
Develop a Crisis Response Team
School staff and administrators recognize how trauma affects learning. It influences student performance through memory loss and cognitive function, which often leads to lower grades in school and fewer employment prospects in the future. Supporting students with trauma is critical for their long-term health and well-being, and schools must know how to respond before a traumatic event occurs.
A trained crisis response team – made up of mental health experts – provides support and intervention after an emergency. This team of experts will acknowledge a student’s emotions and teach various healing activities that can help them cope with trauma in a healthy way. Trauma recovery is an individual journey, but schools have the responsibility to get the right resources in place for times of crisis (for both children and adults who experienced the event).
Develop a Communication Plan
Every school’s detailed plan to address emergencies must include a process for communicating about the emergencies. Communication is critical during emergency situations to keep people inside the building informed and help them avoid danger. Parents, however, also need to be informed of the dangerous situation unfolding at school, as well as how and when they can reunite with their children.
Assign responsibility to various school staff to: alert authorities of the emergency, initiate lockdown directives or set off alarms, manage and/or approve parent reunification, speak to the media, and more.
Technology, like the Navigate360 Emergency Management Suite (EMS), streamlines communication during a crisis. Imagine a principal manually tabulating class accountability by walking around to all safety checkpoints. The potential for human error during a stressful time is one issue, but imagine the time that takes to complete. Instead, the EMS staff and student accountability tool synchronizes with class roster data and gives administrators smartphone/device access to monitor student accountability – whether they are identified at an established safety checkpoint – in real-time, from anywhere. Once accounted for, teachers can release students back into parent custody and track how many are left to reunite. This real-time communication is absolutely a game-changer for everyone during a crisis.
Provide Regular Practice & Training
Plans are important, but they don’t mean much without regular practice and training to reinforce the procedures outlined within. Drills and other proactive training make everyone more confident with their responsibilities so that if and when a real emergency occurs, no one has to wait for instructions (the necessary action can begin immediately).
Since Columbine, 32 states have passed laws requiring schools to perform some form of emergency drill to keep students safe from intruders. Add to that the monthly and/or annual fire or tornado drills and it’s a lot to track.
Cut down the time required to schedule and log these and other drills while still maintaining accountability and transparency. It’s all possible with the Drill Management module of the EMS software from Navigate360. The tool allows administrators to schedule all drills for the entire year and even email that schedule to local emergency agencies so they’re in the loop.
Navigate360 Can Help You with Your Preparedness Plan
Do you have a school emergency preparedness plan? Whatever your needs – no matter what size your school district – choose a partnership with a safety expert to ensure it will cover all the bases. Navigate360 applies the most current practices and technology to help you find the path to safety with confidence.
Every school is unique – and every plan is customized to meet the needs of your school. To find out how we can help you get the right safety preparedness plans in place, call our specialists at 330-661-0106 or visit us at navigate360.com.
Modernize your plan. Equip your school.