Next year’s school planning is already underway, and your teams are likely knee deep in budgeting, staffing and curriculum adopting, among other things. But what about emergency planning? The term “emergency” implies many different things: natural disasters, bomb threats, widespread illness and school shootings, just to name a few. Regardless of the cause, you need a plan with clearly defined roles and action steps should misfortune occur.
A cookie-cutter approach to emergency planning is not recommended and, in fact, poses safety and liability risks. Plans specific to your school should be developed and reviewed annually and updated as needed.
There are four phases of emergency management, all of which should be taken into consideration when formulating or modifying your school’s emergency plan.
1. Prevention-mitigation: During the prevention phase of emergency management, an assessment is performed to address safety issues or concerns within the surrounding environment, within the school building itself and among students and staff. Prevention activities, such as establishing communication plans, performing vulnerability assessments and enforcing building-access policies, are taken to reduce or prevent an emergency situation from occurring.
Mitigation, on the other hand, involves measures taken to limit the impact of a disaster or emergency situation once it occurs. Examples of mitigation could include fencing hazardous areas, installing cabinet locks or anchoring objects that pose the risk of becoming projectiles or crushing someone.
2. Preparedness: The preparedness phase of emergency planning primes schools to effectively respond to an emergency. Preparation plans should flow directly from the data received from any assessments conducted in the prevention-mitigation stage. Such activities may include developing or updating processes or procedures, identifying weaknesses in the existing plan (if there are any) and/or carrying out training exercises and drills. Emergency procedures should be posted in simple language on banners or posters displayed in classrooms, cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums and hallways for all to see.
Consider handing out imprinted items, such as bookmarks or notebooks, to serve as reminders of what to do in the event of an emergency. Also, don’t forget to include parents, who all too often can be left feeling helpless when their child’s school is in lockdown due to an emergency. Avoid this by proactively providing parents with an emergency card or magnet that contains your school’s emergency hotline (if you have one), the website where updates will be posted and local TV and radio stations.
3. Response: The response phase involves quickly carrying out the activities outlined in the prevention-mitigation and preparedness steps once a disaster does occur. Such activities include delegating responsibilities, distributing resources and activating the communication chain.
Consider providing an emergency kit or duffel bag for each classroom. These easy-to-grab bags could include printed emergency instructions, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, snacks and even activities to help pass the time during an emergency situation.
4. Recovery: The final stage of emergency management is recovery, and its end goal is to restore the school to its fullest operating condition. This process is an ongoing one and should take into consideration physical, mental and emotional healing, structural revitalization and economic recovery.
A well-conceived plan that clearly defines everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and instructs all involved on exactly what to do should the unforeseen occur, is the best way to optimize safety and minimize damages.
“Creating Emergency Management Plans.” Emergency Response Crisis Management. US Department of Education, n.d. Web. Retrieved 16 Jan. 2013.
“Recovery Support Functions.” FEMA.gov. Recovery Support Functions | FEMA.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 16 Jan. 2013.