Emergency Planning for School Administrators
Effective crisis communications plans are critical for schools, and but they are not well understood.
A crisis communications plan needs to be comprehensive, meaning that it must take the needs of all stakeholders into account. Before, during, and after a crisis, information needs to flow both to and from the following: administrators, faculty, staff, students, police/fire/medical, the district office, parents, neighbors, utility companies, and the news media. If your plan doesn't take the needs of all of these parties into account, your response to the crisis will be inadequate.
A crisis communications plan also needs to be robust. A plan should not rely on a single form of communication, like phones or text messages. A power outage will kill PA systems and many phone systems. All phone circuits may be busy as word of an emergency situation spreads, making emergency communications difficult or impossible. School internet servers may be overwhelmed with people seeking information, making them unreliable for texting purposes. Cell phone batteries may last only a few hours with heavy use. Be sure that your crisis communications plan has backup means of communication.
All stakeholders should know in advance where to seek information in an emergency. News outlets and websites should be identified at the beginning of the school year. Phone trees can be used to spread critical information, but they, too, should be established early in a school year. The individuals who are authorized to speak on behalf of the school should be identified in advance, and there should be backups for each of them.
There is no such thing as a turn-key solution for school security.
School districts buy security cameras, emergency notification systems, or metal detectors and then believe that they are safe. These systems are extremely expensive to buy and maintain, but the worst thing about high-tech solutions is that they rarely significantly improvement school safety. They may address one problem, but ignore all others. Another ineffective plan is trying to make a school into a fortress.
The solution that does work relies more on people than on technology. There is no way to make a school 100% safe, but faculty, staff, and students can be trained and empowered to be aware of their surroundings and take responsibility for their own safety. When the faculty and staff of a school are well-trained, they will be better able to keep a minor situation from escalating into a major one, deal with a crisis successfully, and recover more quickly and completely.
We would love to help your school prepare to deal with whatever lies ahead. Call us.
- Every school should have an individual responsible for administering the safety plans and to serve as the point of contact for concerns. This step is often overlooked.
- The number of students in schools varies from around a hundred in a small elementary school to thousands in middle and high schools. The number of staff who need to care for all those students is relatively small. It is critical that staff members be trained to serve in a wide variety of roles depending on the actual crisis faced.
- A school campus covers a lot of ground and has many hallways, doors, and windows. It takes constant vigilance to be sure that locked doors are not blocked open, and that any outsider observed in a hallway has a valid reason for being there.
- It is relatively easy for school administrators to communicate safety instructions out to the classrooms, but there may be no good way for the administrators to know what is happening in the classrooms and hallways during a crisis.
- Schools may be well-prepared for a handful of emergencies, like fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Less likely situations, like hazardous material incidents in the neighborhood, flu pandemics, and sexual assaults may not have been addressed. Each school should consider the risks it uniquely faces, and make plans to prevent, deal with, and recover from likely crisis situations.