You are deeply focused on your work when suddenly you are interrupted by a jarring sound blaring from every corner of the school.
Quickly you realize that the fire alarm is going off. When you walk out of your office, you see classrooms evacuating the building in an orderly fashion. Teachers have attendance sheets and first aid kits. Everyone knows just what to do.
No doubt, you have practiced your fire drill routines repeatedly. Most school employees can do an evacuation drill in their sleep.
But what if another emergency occurred? Fires are rare at schools, but emergencies are common.
Would your staff know the procedure if there were a flood? How about a lightning strike? Do they know their specific role if an active shooter shows up in the building?
Okay, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge that thinking about this stuff feels gross. Most people don’t enjoy pondering every worst case scenario that could possibly occur in their school. The thing is, it’s your responsibility to think about it.
These ideas will help you quickly develop a stronger emergency plan for your school.
Consider All Threats & Hazards
So, how do you narrow down the threats and hazards specific to your school?
Think about different aspects of your school and community that present those potential threats.
- School Location: What is close to your school that might present the opportunity for an emergency situation? Busy Roads – Government Buildings – Military Bases – Bodies of Water – Correctional Facilities – Hospitals – Chemical Facilities
- Weather & Pollution: Think about all of the possible weather situations that might occur in your specific geographic location. Tornado – Hurricane – Earthquake – Wildfire – Lightning – Blizzard – Flooding – Toxic Air Quality – Noise Pollution – Factory Smells/Spills
- Facility Design: Every building has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to safety. Think about the features of your building and property, where might safety be challenged or compromised? Located in floodplain – Classrooms visible from street – Many classrooms evacuate into same area – Passersby can reach into playground fence – Children on multiple levels
Customize for Each Area
Unless your school is teeny tiny, you will need to customize your emergency plan and instructions to staff based on the specific area of the school they are in. The more specific the procedures are to each space, the better chance people have of surviving the catastrophic event.
There isn’t just one evacuation procedure unless there is only one room in the school. Let’s say a school has 5 classrooms, 2 common areas, 2 offices, 1 staff lounge, and 1 playground — then it would need 11 specific evacuation plans. This applies to weather shelter and lockdown procedures as well.
Emergency plans also need to include instructions for classrooms on the playground or out of the building on a walk or a field trip. Do your teachers know what to do if an active shooter enters the building and they are out on the playground? Where do they go in that situation? What about if the weather sirens go off?
As you are writing the plans for each area, consider the actual space available and the logistics of the plan. Can 10 classrooms with 30 children each all realistically evacuate into the same hallway at the same time? Can the whole school actually fit in the gym for tornado shelter? How long will it take them to get to the places you are instructing them to go?
After you write the procedures, ask the staff to give you feedback on them. Give them the chance to walk the route, try all of the doors, and look for obstacles or issues. They will know best if the customized plan works for their room.
Each Staff Member Knows Their Role
Did you know that in a real emergency our brain’s ability to process thoughts logically and make critical decisions is severely inhibited? That is why repeated practice of emergency drills is so important. The staff can revert to habituated muscle memory and just do the job they need to do.
After you identify the threats or hazards your school faces, you must imagine the various scenarios that might play out. For example, if a tornado tears through your town, it might hit your building or it might just destroy the surrounding area. Your emergency plan will need a different response protocol for each scenario.
When you start developing a response plan, consider the role of each staff member. Write out the specific jobs for each person in the actual protocol so that they know just what to do.
Here is an example emergency plan for a tornado siren response:
- Lead teacher calls the children to line up at the hallway door.
- Lead teacher collects the emergency bag and attendance list from near the hallway door and heads the line of children.
- Assistant teacher closes the classroom window coverings.
- Assistant teacher visually sweeps the classroom to ensure that all children are lined up.
- Assistant teacher stand at the back of the student line.
- Lead teacher leads the children down the hallway until all of the children have left the room.
- Lead teacher instructs children to sit against the hallway wall.
- Before closing the classroom door, assistant teacher calls out to see if anyone is left in the classroom.
- Assistant teacher closes the door.
- Lead teacher takes attendance.
- Assistant teacher leads the children in songs, stories, or fingerplays.
- Classroom remains in hallway until instructed by administration to return to classrooms.
The lead teacher and the assistant teacher are both very clear on their roles in this scenario. Instead of having a conversation about who does what, they each just perfect their specific roles. If a real tornado is headed their way, they will be ready to get the children to a safer location rapidly.
After you assign roles to the teachers, consider the auxiliary staff in the building. What about the office team? The janitors and cooks? Every single person should know what to do in each emergency event. They should be involved in every training and as practiced as the teachers at responding as needed.
Emergency and disaster planning isn’t glamorous. But when you have a comprehensive plan that you know is going to keep your students and staff safe, you will be so relieved. It really matters.
While it seems like I gave you a ton of information today, it’s truly just the tip of the iceberg. There is also SO much more that goes into the process of a school emergency plan. It is a really big job!
That’s why I made a set of amazing tools for you to help you lead your school through the emergency planning process. I want you to be able to get this done with ease, so I’m making it easy: I’ll lead you through every step, giving your everything you need along the way!
This e-course includes:
- Video webinar hosted by me.
- Full emergency plan workbook.
- Sample evacuation procedures
- Sample shelter in place procedures
- Emergency bag checklist
- A complete emergency plan from a real school!