Creating an Emergency Response Program for Schools

Most school districts and individual schools have emergency management plans in place. However, they are not always practiced regularly, coordinated with community resources, updated frequently or based on factual data and circumstances. As a result, when schools and districts find themselves in situations that merit an emergency response, they are often left unprepared.

Having a solid emergency response plan in place is essential. Emergencies of all types occur in schools daily, and these incidents can have lasting physical, emotional and educational ramifications. Your employees and students need to have a good understanding of what to do during these situations. There are several phases involved in planning an effective emergency management program.

The Four Phases of an Effective Emergency Plan

Phase 1: Mitigation & Prevention

Mitigation is the actions school officials and districts can take to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property damage when an incident occurs. Examples include:

  • Bolting bookshelves to the wall
  • Fencing off hazardous areas
  • Building security
  • Policies related to food preparation, mail handling and building access
  • Assessments related to threats, physical infrastructure, and culture and climate of the school
  • Anti-bullying policies and wellness activities
  • Know the school building thoroughly and the community at large.
  • Become acquainted with local first responders, community partners and the state emergency management agency.
  • Bring together regional, local and school leaders.
  • Make regular school safety and security efforts part of larger mitigation and prevention efforts.
  • Establish clear lines of communication.
  • Conduct safety and security need assessments.
  • Incorporate lessons learned from previous emergencies and drills to update emergency plans.
  • Designate an Emergency Action Plan Coordinator to coordinate communication efforts between first responders, staff, and students.

Prevention is the actions schools and districts can take to decrease the likelihood that an event or crisis will occur. Examples include:

To put this phase into action, school officials should be encouraged to:

Phase 2: Preparedness

The preparedness phase is designed to get the school community ready for potential emergencies by coordinating efforts with community partners. This involves developing protocols and policies, creating incident command systems and conducting formal training and exercises:

  • Identify and involve stakeholders in the planning process.
  • Determine what crises the plan will address.
  • Define roles and responsibilities.
  • Develop methods for communicating with first responders, staff, students, families and the media.
  • Obtain necessary equipment and supplies.
  • Prepare for immediate responses.
  • Create maps and facility information.
  • Develop accountability and student release procedures.
  • Predetermine policies for locating staff and teachers following an emergency.
  • Establish off-site systems for storing registration information and conducting payroll services.
  • Practice your program with all those affected by a potential emergency. Document successes and deficiencies, and adjust accordingly.
  • Address liability issues.

Phase 3: Response

The response phase encompasses taking action to effectively contain and resolve an emergency through the implementation of the school’s or district’s emergency management plan, including:

  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Assess the situation and choose the appropriate response.
  • Notify appropriate emergency personnel and the school crisis response team.
  • Evacuate or lock down the premises, as appropriate.
  • Triage injuries and provide emergency first aid to those who need it.
  • Keep supplies nearby and organized at all times.
  • Identify primary and alternative evacuation sites in case the primary sites are not available during an emergency.
  • Move district resources (buses, etc.) out of the incident area.
  • Communicate accurate and appropriate information.
  • Activate the student release system.
  • If it is a large-scale incident and the buildings are evacuated for an extended period of time, establish a system for distributing or disposing of food stored in school facilities,
  • Allow for flexibility in implementing the emergency management plan.
  • Document the process and how successful the emergency management plan was and make any necessary adjustments.

Phase 4: Recovery

The recovery phase is designed to assist students, staff and their families in the healing process and to restore the educational operations of the school. This includes repairing the physical/structural aspects of the school, attending to business or fiscal needs, getting back to academics and healing psychological or emotional wounds. Specific actions may include:

  • Assemble a crisis intervention team.
  • Return to the “business of learning” as quickly as possible.
  • Keep students, families and the media well-informed.
  • Provide assessments of the emotional needs of the staff, students and families.
  • Provide stress management after class resumes.
  • Conduct daily debriefings with staff, responders and others assisting in the recovery efforts.
  • Take as much time as needed for the recovery.
  • Pre-negotiate contracts for transportation, food, construction and other district needs.
  • Implement a system to manage the receipt of any donations.
  • Review policies and training and update as needed based upon lessons learned.
  • Address the four phases of emergency management, listed above.
  • Take an “all hazards” approach. This means that the plan addresses the following perils:
    • Natural disasters – (earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters)
    • Technological - (power outages)
    • Infrastructure – (roads, bridges and utilities)
    • Nonstructural - (portable room dividers, bookshelves, suspended ceilings and light fixtures)
    • Man-made – (hazardous materials release or acts of terrorism)
    • Biological - (flu pandemic or contaminated food)
    • Physical well-being – (broken bones from playing too rough or suicide)
    • Student culture and climate – (bullying, drugs or violent behavior on the premises)

If an emergency management program is created and executed correctly, it should hopefully achieve the following objectives:

Take the appropriate measures to make your school and district a safer place to learn and work for everyone. Engaging the local government, law enforcement, your employees, the students and their families and the school district in these emergency response efforts will help every aspect of your business.

If you need additional risk and insurance solutions or help creating an emergency response plan, please contact a member of our team.

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