It would be difficult to find a school that didn’t have a plan for bad weather or a fire evacuation plan. But if 2020 taught school administrators anything, it’s that a school emergency plan is about more than communicating with families about a snow day.
To create a comprehensive plan that has your entire team at the ready, you need to go beyond planning reactions to common emergencies. The good news is that there are many tools and resources available to help you do exactly that.
More importantly, expanding your school emergency plan beyond reactionary measures will lessen the likelihood of needing to enact emergency response mechanisms for incidents that can be prevented.
How to Develop a School Emergency Plan
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
You don’t have to start from scratch when creating your school emergency plan. There are many tools available to help you set it up and ensure that you include the right information.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a sample operations plan that you can use as a foundation. From there, you can customize and add specifics for your school.
Many states also provide templates to use as a starting point. These help put a framework around your planning, giving you a starting point that you can add to and adjust as needed.
In addition to these templates, the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center offers free, interactive tools to assist. These include an EOP Assist web-based application that can guide your team through the planning process.
Make a Better Plan with Help
Building a school emergency plan can seem overwhelming, but the entire process shouldn’t sit solely on your shoulders. Not only is it helpful for you to have a team to carry some of the work, but leveraging the insights and input of a variety of people will also result in a more comprehensive and complete plan.
From within your school, choose school nurses, teachers, food services managers, facility managers, school resource officers, social workers, and special education specialists for your team.
You should also pull in experts from the community. These can include school board members, representatives of first responders, public and mental health practitioners, and local emergency managers.
Understand What You’re Solving For
To create an effective plan, you first need to understand the threats that you may feasibly face. This means gathering information about hazards and threats both inside your school and those nearby.
Start within your own walls. Assess your school to identify potential issues on campus. Then, speak with community leaders about the hazards present in the surrounding area. Be sure to include any threats posed by local businesses and factories, and talk with these organizations about what their emergency plans are and how they will communicate any problems with your school. All this information should be included in your completed plan.
Add in Roles and Responsibilities
When people know what is expected of them in any given situation, they react better and with more calm and confidence. Part of your plan will include assigning roles and responsibilities to various staff members, so it’s vital that they know what they are supposed to do.
Training for your staff is crucial, but so is practice. Include drills and tabletop exercises in your planning to give everyone the opportunity to use their training in action. Doing so will give these team members the confidence they will need to keep the rest of the school community calm during a crisis.
Prepare Your Communications Ahead of Time
In the middle of an emergency, there is no time to try and figure out what you should tell people and whom you should tell. Consider and plan your communications beforehand.
Have templates on hand for sharing information about emergencies with parents, the community, the media, and even on social media. Templates lessen the likelihood of sharing the wrong thing. They also let staff focus on managing the emergency instead of figuring out what to say and to whom.
When planning your templates, consider what you will need for both printed notifications and electronic ones. Take into account any and all languages needed to reach your school community.
Focus on Prevention
Mitigating risks is as important as knowing what to do during a crisis. This begins with your assessment of the school grounds, where you can identify changes that could better protect students. For instance, you may find that you need a more secure area to store cleaning supplies or better processes to secure lab chemicals.
Violence prevention must also be considered. Identifying students with behavioral or truancy issues can uncover problems before they occur. Your plan should point to ways that you can get these students the help that they need. The good news is that mitigating violence goes hand in hand with creating an overall better school environment.
Leverage Technology to Point to Potential Challenges
Technology tools can be a huge help in identifying and mitigating issues before they become problems. Attendance systems, for example, can uncover problems with absenteeism. These issues are bellwethers for problems like bullying or challenges that a student is experiencing outside of school. To use this information effectively, though, school administrators must be able to get a bird’s eye view of the data. This makes it easier to spot problematic trends.
Another way that technology can help prevent emergencies is with a visitor management system. Even if your school is currently following best practices and restricting access only through a single entry point, it can still be difficult to identify a threat.
A visitor management system can discreetly give you the information you need at a glance. Visitor information is checked against sex offender databases to identify any concerns. Pick-up information is also stored in the system, so you’ll know immediately if an unauthorized person is trying to remove a student from school grounds.
Developing a school emergency plan is an essential task. Putting together a team with diverse backgrounds and experience and leveraging available tools will make the process easier. Prevention should be a big part of your plan and be based on data gathered. With the right technology tools, you’ll have a better understanding of where threats might come from and the ability to address them before they become a crisis. Doing so improves the school environment and lowers the overall risk of preventable emergencies.
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