After a situation occurred requiring evacuation at a Chagrin Falls school, Assistant Principal, Amanda Rassi, knew that they were “ill-prepared to handle an entire campus evacuation,” and they needed to create a plan that encompassed what to do before, during, and after an evacuation. Her district then worked to create a Reunification Planning Guide for School Administrators to follow in evacuation situations.
Communication is Critical
According to Amanda, the most essential piece to an effective reunification strategy is communication. “It is mission critical to have open, honest, and ongoing conversations with all key stakeholders so you know what your strategy looks like, what it’s designed to do, and more… We made a continuing effort to be extremely clear about our objectives from the beginning, which was necessary to help drive focus. We were up front about what we expected from kids as a part of this drill and what role parents would play as well. It is good to remember that in a real-life situation, no matter how many times you practice, there is always going to be something that does not go according to plan. You must assume this to be true.”
“As someone who is supposed to have visibility over this entire process, you need to know who is communicating with who and why…Above it all, you need to be clear and purposeful about what information is being shared. Sometimes, too much information can harm your efforts and not help them, which is why you need to convey only the information that people need in that moment to perform the duty you’ve asked of them.”
Utilize Technology and Test Your Plan
Amanda recommends that everyone thinks about and incorporates technology into their reunification strategies. Her school teamed with NaviGate Prepared to work through the creation of a reunification module to help assist schools in the reunification process. “We got together with the people from Navigate for a meeting and started talking through the solution. Along with the chief of police, we went through what the goal of the app was, what the features were, and then we discussed how we could pilot this within our community in an effective way.
After the creation of the plan, Chagrin Falls tested the plan with people in every role going through the process as if it were real. “In conjunction with the Navigate team, we brought together administrators, students, teachers, parents, and first responders for a mock reunification drill on the first day of summer vacation…On the day of our drill, everyone involved from law enforcement to students and staff received a name badge. On the back of the name badge, it clearly articulated what that particular person was expected to do as a part of the reunification process… People just don’t need to know what you expect them to do in a situation like an evacuation. They also need to know how you expect them to do it.”
Amanda recognized that another essential element to the creation of an effective plan is ongoing feedback from everyone involved. “Communicating with law enforcement, school officials, and families is critical at the beginning of this process, and equally essential at the end. To anyone trying to put together a reunification planning guide of their own, debriefing at the end with key stakeholders isn’t a recommendation, it’s a requirement.”
“Seeking feedback from school personnel was important, however parents and students provided a unique and equally valuable perspective. It is imperative to consider all viewpoints when making final recommendations. Only then could we make better, more informed decisions for the future.”
“Flash forward to today and we have a comprehensive, organic reunification plan that we know is going to serve us in our time of need. We know this because we recently ran a drill to put all of our hard work to the test.”
“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reunification planning. I strongly encourage all schools to engage stakeholders, determine goals and objectives, and take the time to truly walk through this process.”