March 7, 2017

School Drills – More Than Going Through the Motions

By Shannon Zaher

Let’s face it, state mandates for school drills and safety plans are here to stay. And, honestly, does anyone really think it’s a bad thing? Norwood Superintendent Rob Amodio, in a follow up report from WCPO Cincinnati I-Team states, “I can get into the redundancy of all the new reporting, which is kind of a boilerplate. But if at the end of the day that’s the biggest complaint I have, that’s a minor issue,” he said, adding, “I’m never going to complain about efforts to improve school security.”

With the FEMA-based template, schools are able to leverage the knowledge of numerous experts to create a comprehensive safety plan. However, this does not make the school safe. The process of creating the plan certainly requires administrators to address and document a host of safety-related information including the procedures to be followed in various types of emergencies. But, the act of determining emergency procedures is only the beginning. The plan must be put into action in order for it to be of any value.

The way to put a safety plan into action is through drills. Nearly all states establish specific requirements as to the type, quantity and timing of drills throughout the school year. The number of drills required is plentiful and scheduling and planning them can be challenging. However, the purpose of the drills is to practice your plan. It’s quite unlikely the football coach or the director of the school play is going to skip all practices and just “wing it” at the big game or opening night. Yet, it seems we’re going to “wing it” when it comes to the safety of students and staff.

Of course, this is not the case everywhere, but it may be more prevalent than we realize. Both Ohio and Tennessee were recently “featured” in regional news stories underscoring the lack of adherence to drill requirements. Perhaps part of the problem is administrators, staff and students feel like drills are ineffective because they’re all just going through the motions. Maybe everyone has been through “enough” drills and we know the procedures by now.

What would the coach do?

coach-and-team1Let’s see how the coach or director establishes effective practice sessions and rehearsals. First off, practice sessions provide the team the opportunity to reveal weaknesses in procedures, improve response and coordination, clarify roles and responsibilities and improve individual performances. Similar to the purpose of a drill, right? The director is obviously concerned with the actors, but she also makes sure the make-up and costumes are on point, the lighting is just right and scenery changes run smoothly. Likewise, drills provide the opportunity
to ensure cooperation between schools, police and first responders. A drill tests the capacity and “choreography” of all participants, not just schools.

After practice, the coach typically reviews with the players what they did well and more importantly, what didn’t go according to plan. Mistakes provide an opportunity to learn, to identify weaknesses in the plan or execution and to make adjustments. Debriefing sessions after a drill offer these same opportunities.

Time for a dress rehearsal

Cute little actress. Child girl in Princess costume on the background of theatrical scenes and mirrors.

During an actual crisis, emotion sets in and stress levels are high. Routine is key to emergency response, but staff and students also need to think on their feet. People in a crisis often fail to perform seemingly simple tasks like evacuating a building, implementing a lockdown, calling 911, protecting themselves or notifying the main office when it would be clear to any rational person that action should be taken. This is why it’s time for the dress rehearsal.

The director knows the actors need to practice the play in their costumes, with the lights in their eyes, with the proper timing of set changes because that’s how it will be on opening night and she wants to simulate the emotion, the jitters and the unknown as much as possible. Some schools are doing this by running drills during lunch or blockingan exit thus forcing students and staff to think on their feet. When such tactics are combined with the use of drill scenarios, we can conjure up some of the emotion and adrenaline present during an actual emergency.

Drill scenarios are designed to put a drill into context and give staff the opportunity to practice initiating the protocols for a given situation. For example, rather than the principal announcing an evacuation drill, the principal nonchalantly hands a card with a written scenario to a teacher, randomly. The card says, “You glance out the window and notice 3 suspicious-looking people walking toward the building. As they get closer, you see they all have weapons. GO!” Now it is up to the teacher to follow the correct procedures for securing students and notifying the office and/or emergency agencies. This “dress rehearsal” gives staff and students greater context for the drill and they are no longer “going through the motions.”

Never miss a drill again

With a fresh perspective on the role of drills, it’s important to ensure all drills are scheduled and executed. NaviGate Prepared helps administrators accomplish this through the Drill Logs module. Easily schedule all of your state’s required drills for the entire school year (as well as any additional drills) and send email reminders to staff and emergency agencies, automatically.

Once a drill is complete, the principal logs the drill into the system. It takes just a couple minutes to enter the data required by the state, post the log report and email it to emergency agencies. “The drill log feature within our Emergency Management system is such an incredible aid to the school safety plan statute that the Ohio Department of Education released in January (2015) and makes submission of drill log criteria extremely simple,” says Superintendent Greg Gurka, North Royalton City Schools.

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