June 15, 2018

Reunification Exercised

By Matt Mastroine, Director of Development NaviGate Prepared

I don’t typically write on Facebook, do tweets, or do blog posts. As a software developer, I tend to think in bullet points, if/then statements, and the occasional recursive loop, loop, loop, loop… break;

I have been talking with districts for a few months now asking all sorts of questions around reunification. I’ve been trying to understand how much has been thought out, where potential problems are, and how much has been practiced. Every district so far has at least thought about reunification and has some things in mind for how to handle it. But as I start firing off some questions, almost every administrator starts scribbling down some notes and walks away with some to-dos. Sometimes just after simple questions like, “does your reunification site have Wi-Fi and do you know the password to it?”

From these discussions we’ve been compiling a list of notes, questions, best practices, and common pitfalls. From what I’ve seen so far, very few districts have fully thought through the complexities of reunification and almost no one has actually practiced it. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and reunification can require a lot of organization to be pulled off quickly and safely.

My development team has also been working on a new module inside NaviGate Prepared called “Reunification.” While there are a ton of aspects with reunification that require processes that we can’t really help with, there are certain elements that technology certainly can help. Things like knowing which students have arrived at the reunification site, knowing exactly which students have already been reunified, and documenting which parents have arrived.

The Stuffed Animal Test

As developers, one key aspect of everything we do is testing things. Since we don’t have quick access to 20 students to practice this with, we had a few of our team members bring in stuffed animals from home (my kids are still asking when “Crackers” the parrot gets to come home again). We put name tags on all the stuffed animals, gave specific roles to our team, and ran through reunification several times to make sure everything worked and was easy to use.

Live Practice

After a few updates based on that feedback and “passing” the stuffed animals test, we needed to try things out in an actual school environment. We had already been discussing reunification thoughts and ideas with administrators at Chagrin Falls, so we reached out to see if we could run an actual reunification exercise with parents and students. Amanda Rassi, Assistant Principal at Chagrin Falls High School, jumped on the chance to run through an exercise like this and worked closely with us for several months pulling together details to make this happen.

On June 4th, we ran through a small-scale reunification exercise with volunteers including 25 students, 12 parents, first responders, and 30 staff and administrators. While NaviGate was able to field test our app and make sure it functioned as expected and users could pick it up quickly, Chagrin Falls was able to work through details on the entire process. Things like:

  • pre-communication to the community about the test
  • communication during the exercise
  • notifying first responders, and being on the same page with their placement and involvement
  • evacuation logistics and organization at their evacuation site
  • methods and wording for notification to parents
  • transportation to the reunification site with police escort
  • parking concerns at the reunification site
  • parent lines, flow of parents and students, waiting areas
  • ways to validate guardians are allowed to pick-up students
  • and many other things!

After the exercise, there was a quick debrief with questions and comments with all involved where we picked up more valuable feedback not only on the NaviGate app, but also on how to help schools set up test exercises like this.

Not many schools actually go through the process of practicing reunification like this, so I applaud Chagrin Falls administrators, students, staff, parents and first responders for being willing to put the time in and practice. I hope it’s an encouragement to other districts to try it out as well. Read the article from the Chagrin Valley Times.

Talk with us if you are interested in going through a reunification exercise. We’re working through guides and information that will help you through this process, and using the NaviGate Prepared app can make it even easier. Look for our new Reunification module as we begin rolling it out this fall!

Share your reunification experiences in the comments below.

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Eric Hall

When I worked at the University of Cincinnati, we trained schools throughout Ohio in emergency Management and Response. We conducted this training using stuffed animals and it was very effective.

ALEXANDER GAREY

I think it’s a great idea to run through the process with small numbers first. There needs to a community understanding in order for it to be effective.

Amy Lupinski

I also agree that it was a great idea running a reunification exercise on a smaller scale, it helps get all of the bugs out and brilliant idea, using stuffed animals!

I love the stuffed animal test. Working out the kinks is the hardest part. If we were to test our process I imagine we could use the local Boys & Gilrs Club, which uses some of our school spaces in the summer. It would also show a nice age range of children as well.

Mike

Reunification has the potential to be chaotic. Any procedure needs to be approved by the local/state police. They most likely will take over when they arrive on scene,

Donna Donovan

I think this is a great tool for schools to provide an additional level of safety.

We have the issue of being rural and having resources to complete a reunification drill. Not all of our sites have Wi-Fi and even outside of our school we have limited Wi-Fi range away from the buildings. We have been working with local cellular companies to boost the ability of our staff phones. It will bee a work-in-progress for some time.

Jason G

We have been discussing plans on changing our reunification process. Also looking into each building having their own “hotspot” for staff to connect to in the event we cannot connect to the building we relocate to.

Joanne

Helpful to see what roles to assign during reunification.

Charlie H.

I think this was a great idea. We never practice enough. I love the idea of a hot spot.

Larry Menefee

This provided insight as to how best to perform drill in incremental segments. Small groups, with every stakeholder involved.

Betsi

I think this is probably one of the toughest drills to do! Parents are going to want their children NOW – this is a great way to practice!

Looks like a great idea.

James K. Drew

The live demonstration at the Safety Summit was impressive. It simplified the communication process wonderfully.

Rick Shaffer

We are so looking forward to have the reunification added to the app. And thanks for all of the great ideas.

Chris Hernandez

We are also excited about the reunification app as well. I am going to go back to this discussion at a later time to see what the advantages are that people found and adjustments that needed to be made to improve our practice.

Jose

We already have the plan in place. We still have to test it and this seems like a great way of starting. Looking forward to the app to go along with it!

Kelly Shenk

Wow! What a simple and well thought out drill. I’m going to suggest this to our administration.

Christi Nordman

We too have been planning our Full Scale exercise with Reunification. This article helped to confirm we are on the right path.

Melissa M.

It’s good to remember that when it comes to school safety (reunification included), it’s easy to get bogged down in the big picture, and the enormity of the task. Completing a task in small pieces, and building on them really sets you up for a more successful outcome in the end.

We have our first practice reunification drill scheduled; it will be a “paper” exercise with teachers and staff role playing students, parents, etc. Just talking about it has already greatly increased our awareness, as well as the issues that we will face. We’ve learned (so far) that you have to cross train for every position, and you can’t rely on electronics and wi-fi.

I think that testing reunification is something that has been put off because the logistics of it are not convenient, the same reason why we used to only have fire drills during nice sunny weather. I think that breaking out of the comfort zone for the sake of safety is not easy, but is necessary.