According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are a number of phases included in the creation of an effective emergency management program. The following checklist identifies those phases along with action steps associated with each.
Mitigation: Mitigation is any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to life and property from a hazardous event. Mitigation action steps include:
- Know the school building. Assess potential hazards on campus by conducting regular safety audits. Be sure to include driveways, parking lots, playgrounds, outside structures and fencing.
- Know the community. Work with local emergency management directors to assess surrounding hazards. This includes the identification and assessment of the probability of natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) and industrial and chemical incidents (water contamination or fuel spills). It is also wise to locate major transportation routes and installations, and address potential hazards related to terrorism.
- Bring together regional, local and school leaders. Leadership and support is necessary to ensure that the right people are at the planning table.
- Make regular school safety and security efforts part of the mitigation process. Identify what incidents are common within your school and district.
- Establish clear lines of communication. Since mitigation requires agencies and organizations to work together and share information, communication among the planning team along with families and the larger community are important to convey a visible message that schools and local governments are working together to ensure public safety.
Preparation: Good planning will facilitate a rapid, coordinated, effective response when a crisis does occur. Preparing a crisis plan includes the following action steps:
- Set up a planning committee. Identify those who should be involved in developing a crisis plan, and include training and drills into their orientation. Delegating responsibilities and breaking the process down into manageable steps will help committee members develop a plan.
- Identify and involve stakeholders. Figure out the stakeholders to be involved in developing the crisis management plan (those who are concerned about the safety of the school and the people who will call to assist when a crisis occurs). Ask stakeholders to provide feedback on sections of the plan that pertain to them specifically.
During this process, create working relationships with emergency responders to learn how these individuals function and how you will work with them in a crisis. Take the time to learn their vocabulary, command structure and culture.
- Consider existing efforts. Investigate all existing plans and analyze the following: How do other agencies’ plans integrate with the school’s plan? Are there conflicts? Does the comprehensive school safety plan include a crisis plan? What information from the district’s crisis plan can be used in the school’s crisis plan?
If the school recently completed a crisis plan, your efforts may be limited to revising the plan in response to environmental, staff and student changes.
- Determine what crises the plan will address. Define what is considered a crisis for your school based on your vulnerabilities, needs and assets.
- Define roles and responsibilities. Define what should happen when, and at whose direction. This should involve much of the school staff who will be assigned to one of the following roles: school commander, liaison to emergency responders, student caregivers, security officers, medical staff and spokespeople for the school.
If the district has not already appointed a public information officer (PIO), it should do so immediately. Also, work with law enforcement to identify crises that require an outside agency to manage the scene (fire, bomb threat or hostage situation). Then, learn what roles outsiders will play, what responsibilities they will take on and how they will interact with the school staff. It is especially important to also determine who will communicate with families and the community during the incident.
- Develop methods of communicating with the staff, students, families and the media. Address how the school will communicate with all individuals who are directly or indirectly involved in a crisis. First, develop a mechanism for notifying students and staff that an incident is occurring and what you will instruct them to do. If students are evacuated from the school building, determine if staff will use cell phones, radios, intercoms or runners to get information to other staff members supervising them. Also be sure to discuss the safest means of communication with law enforcement and emergency responders, as some electronic devices can trigger bombs.
Then, plan for how you will communicate with families, community members and the media. Consider writing template letters and press releases in advance so staff will not have to compose them during the confusion and chaos of the event.
- Obtain necessary equipment and supplies. Provide staff with the necessary equipment to respond to a crisis. Consider whether there are enough master keys for emergency responders so that they have complete access to the school. Also, get the phones or radios necessary for communication.
It is also wise to obtain contact information for families, maintain a cache of first aid supplies as well as food and water for students during an incident. In addition, prepare response kits for secretaries, nurses and teachers so they have easy access to these supplies.
- Prepare for emergency response. When a crisis occurs, quickly determine whether students and staff need to be evacuated from the building, returned to the building or locked down in the building. Plan action steps for each of these scenarios.
- Create maps and facility information. In a crisis, emergency responders need to know the layout of the school. Create site maps that include information about classrooms; hallways and stairways; the location of utility shut-offs; and potential staging sites.
- Develop accountability and student release procedures. As soon as a crisis is recognized, account for all students, staff and visitors. Emergency responders treat a situation very differently when people are missing. Also, be sure to inform families of release procedures before a crisis occurs. In many situations, families have flocked to the school wanting to collect their children immediately, so a method should be established for tracking student release and ensuring that students are only released to authorized individuals.
- Preparedness includes emergency drills and crisis exercises for students, staff and emergency responders. Often, training and drills identify issues that need to be addressed in the crisis plan and problems with plans for communication and response.
- Address Liability Issues. Consideration of liability issues is necessary before crisis planning can be completed and may protect you and your staff from a lawsuit. Situations where a foreseeable danger can pose liability if the school does not make every reasonable effort to intervene or remediate the situation should be rectified. Therefore, a careful assessment of the hazards faced by the school is critical.