Best Practices for Reunifying Students and Recovering 

Students and Families Need to be Reunited as Quickly and Safely as Possible

An evacuation, especially one due to an extreme crisis, can cause physical reactions and strong emotions like terror, fear, and helplessness. Alongside how to respond to an incident, you also need a robust plan for every component of reunifying students with their guardian.  
Best Practices for Reunifying Students and Recovering
“When I think about our reunification process prior to Raptor, it was a lot of paper and pencils or computer spreadsheets…the Raptor Emergency Software has helped us create a more efficient system.”
Amanda Rodgers Principal, Dieterich Middle School
Midlothian Independent School District, TX

“When I think about our reunification process prior to Raptor, it was a lot of paper and pencils or computer spreadsheets…the Raptor Emergency Software has helped us create a more efficient system.”

Amanda Rodgers
Principal, Dieterich Middle School
Midlothian Independent School District, TX


Creating a Reunification Plan

A critical aspect of K-12 emergency response is the accountable reunification of students with their parents or guardians. A successful, streamlined reunification requires schools to implement tangible plans for each type of reunification, including on-site, off-site, and partial. Below is an overview of each type and key things you must consider for your school reunification plan.
On-Site Reunification
For incidents like an incoming storm or a power failure, schools can consider an on-site reunification. Key components include notifying guardians, confirming transportation needs, and reunifying students with their guardians at the school site.



Key Considerations for an Effective Reunification After a School Crisis. Learn More.

Off-Site Reunification

An off-site reunification may be necessary for events like a fire, bomb threat, gas leak, or a violent crisis at the school. This type includes notification, evacuation, transportation, and reunification at your selected reunification site. If the evacuation is due to a violent event, there are additional things to consider, including how you will: 

  •  maintain a calm, safe environment
  • manage the influx of media both at the impacted site and your reunification site 
  • support student and staff mental and physical health in response to the crisis 
Partial Reunification
A partial reunification occurs when there is a need to reunify only a partial number of students. For example, if there is an active robbery near your school, you will not want students who typically walk home to walk through or near the crime scene. Like an on-site reunification, a partial reunification includes notifying guardians, confirming any transportation needs, and reunifying the appropriate students with their guardians at the school site. While the school will be conducting business as usual, you may have an increase in police presence around the school as the criminal activity is taking place.
Components of a Reunification Plan

A solid reunification plan will include:    

  • recovery teams and their responsibilities
  • reunification site locations and staging 
  • transportation to the site for students, staff, and emergency supplies
  • roles for law enforcement and mental health professionals 
  • protocols for confirming students are reunified with approved guardians


Appoquinimink School District Case Study 

See how a Delaware district improved reunification processes after an exercise with Raptor. Learn More.

Making a Reunification Team

We recommend having two teams in place for reunification: the reunification team and the transport team.

The reunification team should immediately go to the reunification site to stage the site, including hanging signage to direct guardians, and prepare for reunification. This team is responsible for reunification of students with their guardian and transportation for teachers and staff to return to the school. It is imperative that this team has supplies and resources readily available at the site. They should create an “evacuation go-kit” and multiple “reunification go-kits.” These kits can include floor plans, emergency contact information, writing utensils, flashlights with batteries, and other necessary materials that won’t be readily available at the reunification site.


Midlothian High School Case Study
Watch how Raptor collaborated with school and city staff for a parent-student reunification exercise at Midlothian ISD (TX).
The transport team facilitates transportation and initiates accountability processing in off-site reunifications. Their main responsibilities are to identify a reunification site and safely transport students and staff to the site. They should also select two back-up facilities. Ideally this happens over the summer, long before any incidents can occur.

Some designated team members may be unavailable to assist in the emergency response. This could be because they are out sick for the day or injured in the crisis. When choosing team members, think about who will most likely be available for each position. For example, a teacher will probably be with their students so they may not be the right individual for a reunification role.


Choosing a Reunification Site

When picking a site, consider a nearby facility that is unoccupied during the school day and is large enough to hold your school population, guardians, and volunteers. The facility should have large rooms where you can divide your students into groups. A place of worship or recreation center is typically an ideal size.
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The chosen reunification site should be as centrally located as possible to allow easy access for schools. A geographically widespread district can plan for more than one reunification site. Regardless of location, there is usually still one district reunification team dispatched to the site.

Plan the Routes
The school’s reunification procedure also needs to specify predetermined routes for getting students, staff, security, first responders, and other personnel to and from the site. Ideally, faculty will walk students to the facility. If the facility is not within walking distance, other means of transportation will be necessary to safely evacuate your school. 
Configure the Site
It’s best to direct students to an area that is out of view; you do not want guardians to spot their children as they are entering the facility. Outline how faculty should communicate information to guardians about the reunification process. It is important, however, to keep the location of reunification sites confidential until the district chooses to notify guardians. Otherwise, they may arrive before the students get to the site and complicate an already difficult situation. Make sure to include information on nearby hospitals and fire stations for quick reference.


Involving Law Enforcement & Mental Health Services

Being involved in an emergency can be scary for everyone. Although it is nearly impossible to keep an anxiety-free environment during a crisis, schools can do a lot to help everyone cope with their emotions and keep the reunification process on track. 
North Carolina District Simplifies School Safety with Raptor
Keep the Environment Calm
District security and/or law enforcement personnel should be present as students, faculty, and guardians arrive at the site. Their presence will foster a sense of safety and minimize chaos. If media representatives show up, security and law enforcement officials can also ensure reporters won’t interfere with reunification and (if authorized) address their questions.  
Inform Guardians of Student Status
Law enforcement also typically take the lead on providing updates to guardians whose students are missing, injured, or deceased. This helps ensure that the guardian receives accurate information in a clear and compassionate way.

Counselors should be available to immediately assist guardians who have lost child(ren) in the incident. These counselors may also support the child’s siblings, cousins, and their school friends through their grief.

Provide Mental Health Services
You should also have school-employed mental health professionals at the reunification site to help with any immediate crisis-related needs. Written materials on mental health support, typical crisis reactions, and how to cope with traumatic situations should be available. If the crisis is extreme, mental health professionals can also provide training on how to best support children as they heal from the crisis.


Webinar – Dr Leigh Wall

Former Santa Fe Superintendent Shares Key Strategies for Coordinated Emergency Response
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Streamlining Reunification

Technology can improve your process and eliminate inaccuracy. Knowing student status—including if the student is missing or injured—is critical. This information can easily be lost in the chaos of a reunification that relies on pen-and-paper methods. Best practice is to give teachers, staff, first responders, and incident commanders instant access to real-time student data, status, and location.
Raptor school reunification system
Use Trusted Reunification Software
When a guardian checks in to the reunification site, the greeter can quickly confirm if the student is safely at the site and that they can continue the reunification process. If a student is marked missing or injured, the greeter will immediately know to escort the guardian to a private waiting area for further information (and not have to break the news out in the open in front of everyone).


Guide to K-12 Emergency Management

Proven strategies to protect your school. This guide positions you to design the best school emergency management approach.
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