No educator wants to think about the radio call or alarm that signals an emergency on school grounds. However, a clear plan of what to do in emergency situations is an absolute necessity, and preparedness makes all the difference.
If you’re an administrator thinking about creating an emergency plan for your school, this can be a starting point. It is by no means a replacement for a comprehensive plan of action. To learn more about a full school plan, contact the FEMA Emergency Management Institute or the Readiness Emergency Management System.
The Basics of Emergency Planning
While there is no one plan that can meet the needs of every emergency situation, there are initial steps schools can take to begin building effective emergency response. As you paint the broad strokes of your plan, consider some of the following planning procedures that will lead you toward a framework.
A good starting point is to assess risks for your area and prioritize them by likelihood of occurrence. You may, for example, live in an area prone to flooding or where earthquakes may occur. Some types of threat will necessitate different sheltering areas, while others will require a clear evacuation route. Knowing the most likely threats helps in building a strategic plan for keeping students and staff safe.
Once you know the probable risks, the next step is to assess your area and your building structures. You may for example, want to be aware of whether there are industries in proximity to your school that pose a chemical hazard. In assessing your building, you are evaluating its strengths and vulnerabilities. Structural assessments should be contracted to professionals.
One final measure is to evaluate staff and create emergency assignments suitable to their strengths and abilities. Knowing the limitations of your staff is invaluable so that you can provide them with training and don’t assign tasks that are beyond their physical or mental abilities. As the Community for Accredited Schools puts it: “The biggest hurdle in emergency preparedness is understanding the importance and need for training. In emergencies people don’t rise to the occasion, they sink to the level of their training.”
Design a Plan
The most essential step in creating an emergency plan is implementing an alert system. You will need to create different alerts for certain types of emergencies and will need to train, staff, faculty, students, and parents to understand the types of alerts.
Communication is also key for this stage of planning. The means for disseminating alerts both within and outside the school should be a part of your design. Two-way radios can be an important component of this process, as they allow communication between staff and the source of the alert.
Another important aspect of planning is creating a clear chain of command and an order of operations. Staff and faculty should be organized into teams and assigned specific duties. Some duties may be the same for any emergency situation, but others may vary depending on the type of risk.
One important task in any emergency situation is to track students. Each faculty member should have a group of students to which they are assigned and should convey that information to a central coordinator.
It is crucial, as a part of your plan, to conduct training and to regularly drill staff and students. Staff should be aware of evacuation routes, shelter locations, fire alarm pull stations, fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, hazardous materials storage, and utility shutoffs in the building where they work.
Encouraging training in and providing incentives for CPR and Basic First Aid certification ensures a level of readiness for emergency situations. Routinely drilling staff along with students ingrains responses so that should dangerous situations arise, people are more likely to react immediately.
A Communication Plan
Communication is vital in cases of emergency, so a thorough plan should delineate the various means of connecting within the school, outside the school, with parents, with media, and with emergency responders.
Because some emergencies result in communication lines being cut, one of the most effective tools you can have as part of your communication plan are two-way radios. These can be used to convey important information between administrators and staff/faculty, to communicate between classrooms and buildings, and to keep track of students.
A Crisis Kit
Whatever the threat, it is important for schools to assemble crisis kits. Larger schools may want to assemble building or section kits, but all classrooms should have a smaller kit prepared in an easy to carry bag with at least these basic items: building emergency plans and procedures, a list of special needs of students and staff (marked confidential, use guided by HIPAA and FERPA), an emergency phone number list, a first aid kit, water, two-way radios, flashlights, extra batteries, a clipboard and paper, blankets, a whistle, hand sanitizer, and disposable plastic gloves.
Preparation is Assurance
Educators hope, of course, that they never have to face a school emergency. But should that day arrive when the alarms sound, having prepared a plan, drilled the members of community, and stocked your school with the necessary supplies will add a level of confidence that faculty, staff, and students know how to respond to create the safest possible atmosphere.