Leading Practices for School Safety
Nobody thinks a horrible situation like the school shootings at Sandy Hook, Chardon or Columbine is going to happen at their school. And, odds are, they’re right. However, there are plenty of other situations that can become true emergencies. Weather events, power outages, fires and flooding, threat of an explosion or chemical spills are just a few examples. There is a wide range of potential threats to the school students and staff members in your care – and we want to work with you to be prepared to handle any potential emergency effectively.
There are four key areas to focus on to help ensure you and your staff are equipped to keep yourselves and your students safe:
Here’s a look at these school safety leading practices – and how NaviGate Prepared can help.
Leading Practices for School Safety Planning
Start on the Right Foot
It seems obvious your district’s safety program should start with a good plan. However, severe hurdles in some states make it challenging to figure out what must be included in the safety plan. And in many cases, administrators are not provided the training or experience, and certainly not the time, to take on this endeavor.
You know it must be done and done well. The safety of your students and staff is of utmost importance. Yet, the enormity of it all can stop the most well-intentioned right in their tracks.
“Planning and preparing for crisis may be the single most important action schools can take to protect the school community. With emergency plans in place, the school community is better prepared to recognize, prevent, mitigate and even recover from school-based crisis.”
Mother, Co-founder / Executive Director Safe and Sound Schools: A Sandy Hook Initiative
So, let’s borrow a page from another ominous task – doing our taxes. Products like TurboTax and TaxAct provide a series of questions for the user. Once all of the questions are answered, the software puts the pieces in the right places, makes various calculations and produces a document (or file) aligned to the IRS requirements for tax filing. Such programs greatly streamline this task and make it manageable for non-accountants to file their own taxes.
In the same way, school safety planning tools tailored to each individual state’s requirements can make it easier for you to ensure your plan is complete and compliant.
Be Responsible and Accountable
When most people think about school safety, they are often reminded of crouching by their locker during a tornado drill or heading single file from the building during a fire drill. Of course, today, safety drills encompass additional, terrifying circumstances such as active shooter, lockdown and bomb threat procedures.
Most states require a certain quantity of drills throughout the school year and some specify the type, timing and circumstances (i.e. unannounced or during lunch) as well.
Often, to help ensure school districts are meeting such requirements, the safety drill schedule must be communicated to local emergency management agencies and/or posted to school websites.
While there’s no arguing with the value of safety drills and the transparency and accountability school administrators should have when it comes to the safety of staff and students, there is some concern over the amount of time, resources and general busy work associated with implementing and maintaining safety procedures.
Certain safety preparedness tools can make the planning, coordination and execution of drills easier. This removes the opportunity for school administrators to be overwhelmed or overburdened by the tasks associated with safety compliance. It also gives parents peace of mind in knowing their children and school officials are trained and prepared for possible school emergencies.
Schedule all safety drills for the school year and set reminder alerts for staff.
Post safety drill reports directly to your school or district website (no IT involved).
Share safety drill schedules with local emergency services.
Log safety drills as soon as they are complete.
Track all safety drills from each building from your dashboard.
Key Practices for Organizing School Safety Plans
Keeping Everyone on the Same Page
How current are your safety documents? Are your staff’s versions of emergency procedures up-to-date? And what about first responders… are they aware of that new addition and reconfiguration of the west end of the building?
We often see administrators with nice, current 3-ring binders on their desk. Yet in a deeper look throughout the schools, the more out-dated materials get. It’s difficult to make the time to print the latest lockdown procedure, 3-hole punch it, put it in every single binder and discard the previous version. However the last thing anyone wants is to have some of the staff doing the procedure the new, correct way and others still on last year’s version of the procedure. That spells chaos, uncertainty and fear.
Best Practices for Collaborating on Safety Plans
Sharing Knowledge Builds Trust
Working together isn’t always easy. It usually takes more time and there may need to be some compromises. However, the results are usually better. We generally learn something along the way and we typically save both time and money in the end.
In our roles at NaviGate Prepared, we collaborate with a wide variety of people focused on school safety. Our product developers sit with 911 dispatchers and attend school safety drills with the fire chief to see how our solutions support their efforts. We need their input to ensure we are creating tools that shave seconds off response times and help direct resources. Superintendents, administrators and teachers offer critical feedback about ease of use, intuitiveness and process flow. Collaborations like these give us the insight to ensure our solutions are helping staff respond safely and effectively during drills and emergencies.
One of the nice “surprises” we’ve encountered on our journeys to schools across the country is seeing the level of collaboration between administrators and first responders brought about by the Maps and Floor Plans component of NaviGate Prepared. We’ve heard stories from principals who were discussing their plans for evacuation with first responders and discover the fire department’s staging area was in the same place as one of the school’s evacuation points! Good thing they were collaborating to identify those areas on their site plan.
Most school districts do not have the personnel resources available to create interactive floor plans, so they rely on our OnSite Service to quickly get them up and running. Collaborating with first responders and staff is a much better use of your time.
“We took advantage of the added assistance from the NaviGate Prepared team to capture the many photos needed of our buildings and in doing so, our district administration was able to continue focusing on our responsibilities as we prepared for the school year and the system was up and running in no time.”
Superintendent, Robinson Community Unit School District
Communication is Key
It’s time to communicate and distribute the safety plan and all emergency procedures. The beauty of the NaviGate Prepared platform is your plan and procedures live in a secure central location so you can share them with staff, administrators and first responders. When someone makes an update, everyone still accesses the most current data. Just think…no version-control issues, no printing and copying costs, nobody with inaccurate information.
Key Practices for Practicing Emergency Preparedness
Lessons Learned Make Good Teachers
Most states have recommendations or mandates regarding the content of school safety plans. Many states assemble a school safety task force comprised of a cross-section of vested professionals to review best practices, lessons learned and expert findings.
The Illinois School Security & Standards Task Force made the following recommendations encouraging Illinois schools to adopt these safety best practices to help keep students and staff safe and well-prepared for emergencies.
Many states start with the Federal Emergency Management Association safety plan template and may modify it or use it as is. Regardless, school districts should be sure to align the template to the unique characteristics of their buildings and community.
- ADOPT FEMA Safety Plan Template – The Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operation Plans created by FEMA.
- IMPLEMENT School Safety Drill Act – Schools must include one drill that is unannounced.
- INVOLVE First Responders – Ensure proper information is on floor plans and share with first responders.
Use an Integrated Approach
To be truly prepared, staff, students, administrators and first responders need to practice a variety of emergency scenarios. This is obviously the point of a safety drill, but let’s consider ways we can get the most from these opportunities and other methods of practice to supplement the drill.
In addition to traditional safety drills, tabletop exercises provide a less-stressful environment to work through the details of a plan including expectations staff may have of first responders, handling parents and media, managing communication through all stages of a situation and properly accounting for students.
We’ve heard numerous times from teachers and administrators that accounting for students during a drill is typically based on counting heads. A teacher may know her fifth period English class has 25 students and once everyone is out of the building, she counts 23 students.
Two students are missing. Which two students?
In an actual emergency the teacher may not remember her entire roster to be able to identify the missing students. Meanwhile, another teacher has actually grabbed one of those missing students, but has no way to account for them.
The ability to account for students by name, rather than by number, is a game-changer, offering peace of mind to staff and helping direct first responder resources to save valuable seconds.
Collaboration with folks like Michele Gay, mother and Co-Founder/Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools: A Sandy Hook Initiative; Dr. Joseph Erardi, superintendent and Mark Pompano, director of safety, Newtown Local School District; Ed Vittardi, principal, St. Albert the Great and many others, drives numerous product developments at NaviGate Prepared.
Continuous improvement is in everything we do. It is our goal to provide peace of mind to all who are responsible for keeping children and staff safe. We want to make emergency preparedness simple so your staff is ready to navigate any situation with confidence.