Knowing what to do when faced with a school crisis can be the difference between calm and chaos, courage and fear, and life and death.
No educator wants to be without a plan in the midst of a crisis. And, more often than not, you have the information, you’ve been through the training, and you know the drill. The question is: do you have a compliant school safety plan to back it up?
If your answer is no, “putting pen to paper” may not be as daunting as you think. A little help can go a long way. It’s like moving. The first day in your new home, the boxes are piled high, but enlist some help from friends and family and you’ll be surprised at the progress you can make in a short amount of time.
Generalize then customize
Of course every school community has its own history, culture and safety risks. What works for a large inner-city district where the population is concentrated likely won’t work for a small rural district where buildings and first responders are miles apart.
Additionally, plans should address specific state and local school safety laws and compliance regulations. So, your school safety plan should be customized to meet the unique needs of your school community.
But, to get started, many administrators find it easier to begin by addressing general safety standards that apply to any district or school – then customize to their school. For example, all safety plans need to address a wide range of events and hazards caused by both nature and people, such as:
- Natural disasters, severe weather, fires
- Chemical/hazardous materials or industrial disasters
- School shootings, bomb threats, acts of war or terror
- Medical emergencies, outbreaks of disease or infection
- Student or staff deaths
Additionally, all compliant safety plans must address the following phases of crisis management per the U.S. Department of Education:
- Mitigation and Prevention: Safety plans should deter incidents from happening in the first place. Plan content should help students and staff mitigate crisis situations, or decrease the need for response as opposed to simply increasing response capability.
- Preparedness: Safety plans should incorporate ongoing strategies and actions designed to keep students, staff and property safe and better prepared for a crisis. This will facilitate more rapid, coordinated and effective response during a crisis.
- Response: Safety plans should include specifics on isolating an incident, stabilizing it and quickly re-instituting a safe environment. Plans should be easy to follow so during a crisis, administrators can make use of their preparations.
- Recovery: Safety plans should outline actions that will return students, teachers and staff to a safe learning environment. Plans should explain how to restore the infrastructure as soon as possible.
You can then build on this general information by incorporating routine procedures (i.e. chain of command, communications, reporting, visitor screening, intruder alerts, lunch periods, dismissal, etc.), emergency procedures (i.e. first responder notifications, communications/command center protocols, policies for evacuation, deny entry/lockdown, shelter-in-place, family reunification, etc.), and more.
Quick guide to school safety plan content
For added assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers several recommendations for creating school safety plans. However, the following is a quick snapshot of the type of information you need to write your plan:
- School/administration/first responders (names, titles, contact information)
- Record of distribution (how/where stored)
- School building/population (acres, uses, polices and procedures)
- Functional needs (students/staff)
- Utility and public services (electric, gas, water, food service, transportation, etc.)
- Emergency contacts (decision-maker, maintenance, custodian, SRO, etc.)
- School response/communication (public safety/emergency communication, floor plans, etc.)
- Evacuation/reunification (locations, parent notification, site contact name/information)
- Hazards/threats (frequency, impact, warning time, ranking)
- Incident-specific details
- Administration/logistics recovery/continuity of operations (storage of records, agreements contracts, back-up site, etc.)
- Plan approval/dissemination/training (including records of distribution and change)
Call in the reinforcements
Even though we all like a good “pen and paper” reference, when you do sit down to write your plan, pass on the actual handwriting. Instead, check out NaviGate Prepared’s electronic Safety Plan Wizard.
Just like the friends and family who helped you unpack those moving boxes, you will be shocked at the progress the Wizard can help you make in virtually no time at all!
It offers a quick and easy step-by-step questionnaire for entering each piece of information above. And, you can start, stop, edit and revisit your plan any time. It also includes a selection of references for help along the way, including the tool the Department of Homeland Security uses for evaluating school safety plans.
When you are finished, you will have a nicely packaged safety plan, exportable as either a PDF or Microsoft Word document.
*Bonus: The Safety Plan Wizard is also great for reviewing and revising your plan throughout the year. As you know, safety plans should not be stagnant documents. An important part of keeping your plan compliant and effective is ensuring you review it often, invite feedback from staff members on a regular basis, and update it at least once per year (more if your school experiences a crisis or if staff members have suggestions for improvements).