Proven Strategies to Protect Your School
This guide positions you to design the best school emergency management approach by helping you answer:
- What does successful emergency management look like for my school or district?
- How can I best prepare for, respond to, and recover from any emergency?
- How will new threats or political and legal developments impact my approach?
- How can I find an emergency management partner that is aligned with my priorities?
Learn how to prepare for, respond to, and recover from any emergency
Meeting and Exceeding Expectations for Emergency Management
We all understand the need for emergency management, but what does successful emergency management look like and why should we go above and beyond so that our community not only feels safe but trusts us?
The Basics of Emergency Management
Emergency management includes preparing for emergencies, managing localized incidents, alerting first responders, accounting for students, reunifying students with their guardians, and continuously adjusting policies in light of new threats.
Context Around Emergency Management
Safety is the number one consideration in any discussion about school emergency management. Yet that discussion is informed by several factors from the immediate community to the larger social and political landscape.
The Three Stages of Emergency Management
We’ve organized school emergency management around three central themes: prepare, respond, and recover. These stages roughly correspond to before, during, and after an incident, but they all reinforce each other and rely on many of the same principles.
The first major step in effective school safety is developing your emergency operations plan (EOP). It covers the entire timeline of different possible incidents, including how to alert first responders, account for students, and reunify them with approved guardians. While thinking through your EOP, concentrate on these five objectives:
Define Your Emergency Protocols
Protocols provide consistent and clear shared instructions for students, staff, and first responders. They also provide a shared language—a common understanding of what everyone is referring to—that allows for quick and coordinated action.
Document Your EOP
Here is a brief checklist of some key information you should have “on paper” that informs how you train staff and revise your plan over time:
- Who is responsible for initiating an emergency
- Procedures for evacuation, lockdown, shelter-in-place, and reunification
- Protocols to account for students
- Roles and responsibilities of school personnel (such as what a teacher needs to do as soon an emergency is declared)
- Which authorities are alerted for specific emergencies and how they should be contacted
- What information needs to be collected and distributed before, during, and after an incident (for example weather reports or law enforcement bulletins)
Implement your EOP
When your EOP is approved, share the plan and make sure everyone involved knows their roles and responsibilities. Conduct regular trainings to refresh the team on their commitments. Key training components include consistently practicing the EOP and meeting at least once per year to review it.
Drills require a lot of upfront planning, like deciding what scenario to perform and when. Think about the location, duration, time, and frequency and make sure you comply with your district and state requirements. Every drill should strictly follow your EOP. This allows your school community to gain more familiarity with the plan, become more confident with each drill, and develop “muscle memory” that increases response efficiency. It’s crucial to empower everyone to feel confident in the face of any kind of violence. Training, including active shooter training, can teach students, teachers, and other staff how to prevent and survive these incidents and other violent threats.
In the event of an actual emergency, you’ll want the right people, actions, and tools in the field to keep people safe and resolve the issue as soon as possible.
A mobile panic alert system should link directly to law enforcement and first responder agencies. It should also enable all teachers and staff to quickly summon help and send detailed, situation-specific alerts to a custom list of recipients from wherever they are on campus. As the foundation of your response, it is critical that your system is customized to your emergency response protocols to stay in compliance with your specific policies and procedures.
Planning for wide-scale emergencies is critical, but issues related to localized incidents—like a student fight, an irate visitor, or a playground injury—are more frequent. These everyday situations can quickly escalate without the presence of the appropriate personnel to identify and resolve the issue.
Provide Accurate Information
Teachers, staff, incident commanders, and first responders must be able to communicate during the crisis and access important emergency documents. The most powerful systems have group messaging channels and allows users to access your EOP, detailed school maps, and other imperative documents.
Account for Everyone
It’s important that teachers and staff can account for anyone, not necessarily just the students on their rosters. Incident commanders also need a clear, real-time line of sight for every person on campus. If an emergency begins during an assembly when students and visitors are dispersed throughout the auditorium, an accountability solution—ideally one that is integrated with the panic alert system—enables them to quickly see their class rosters, search for others by name, and share statuses with first responders and incident commanders.
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. 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
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. 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.
The reunification team is responsible for reunification of students with their guardian and transportation for teachers and staff to return to the school. 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.
Keep Everyone Calm
Schools can do a lot to help everyone cope with their emotions and keep the reunification process on track. District security and/or law enforcement personnel should be present to help. You should also have school-employed mental health professionals at the reunification site to help.
Student status information can easily be lost in the chaos of a reunification that relies on pen-and-paper methods. Teachers, staff, first responders, and incident commanders need instant access to real-time student data, status, and location. It’s also imperative that personnel can accurately confirm the guardian’s identity, check for sex offender status, check for custodial restrictions, and capture their signature at reunification.
Movements and Changes in K–12 Emergency Management
School emergency management is not a static set of ideas or actions. New threats as well as political and legal developments impact our world and make us reevaluate how we can continue to keep students safe.
Alyssa’s Law is legislation requiring public and charter schools to have silent panic alert systems linked directly to first responder and law enforcement agencies. Alyssa’s Law represents best practices not just for schools, but anyone involved in the field of emergency management. If you’re working with an external constituent or vendor, be sure to ask if they’re also aligned with this movement.
THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
In COVID-19’s wake, administrators and teachers have showed incredible dedication, flexibility, and innovation. They have adapted instruction and resource distribution to sustain learning while serving a range of their students’ individual needs.
Maintaining a Safe School
It’s important to keep the basics of school safety in mind even with these new challenges. Not following key practices can put the school in harm. For example, schools may want to prop open doors to avoid people touching handles, but even during a pandemic, schools remain safer when doors are closed and can be immediately locked.
Updating your EOP for pandemic response—especially with any lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic—is imperative. It means you are prepared to respond to any emergency and provides assurance to students, staff, and families that your school takes safety from all kinds of threats seriously.
Schools had to quickly develop plans for distributing meals and providing students with everything they need to continue their educations, including items such as homework and laptops. Meal and resource distribution can be challenging, as schools must: ensure students receive the correct resources, streamline the process to make it efficient, and track and record the distribution for accurate recordkeeping.
Implementing an End-to End Emergency Management System
Implementation begins with your team, brings in trusted partners, and utilizes robust solutions. You, your partners, and your tools create the conditions to catalyze the best emergency management practices.
THE RIGHT PARTNERS
When choosing software, it’s just as important to pick the right company as it is the right product since the two will go hand in hand. They have to be more than just a software vendor. They should be a true collaborator with know-how and empathy who puts your mission and goals first. You should also seek partners already aligned with school emergency management best practices. For example, are they familiar with Alyssa’s Law and The “I Love U Guys” Foundation’s methods?
An integrated emergency management platform does just that: it integrates all aspects of emergency management into one platform shared among all stakeholders in real time. The right platform will empower you to:
- Practice and analyze drills
- Initiate an emergency through a mobile panic button
- Send instant, detailed alerts and connect with 9-1-1
- Share critical information with staff and first responders, including your EOP, building floor plans, and your location on a map
- Stay up to date with staff, first responders, and incident commanders with real-time group messaging
- Account for each individual on campus
- Reunify students with guardians
- Create instantaneous and updated status reports and after-incident reports
- Summon help for localized incidents
- Integrate with your visitor management system
Every district has different priorities, procedures, and challenges. You do not want a generic off-the-shelf solution. These solutions may seem appetizing based on their often low cost, but they likely won’t meet your needs. More importantly, unless an emergency management platform meets the nuances of your physical infrastructure, offerings, and culture, it won’t be the safest option.
Linking your visitor, volunteer, and emergency management systems ensures that everyone on campus at any given time is logged into a unified platform and will be included in incident alerts and procedures.
IMPLEMENTATION SERVICES AND BEST PRACTICES
When selecting a school safety partner, ask about their portfolio of services. It should encompass more than installation and configuration.
Implementation Best Practices
Successful implementation starts with strong executive support. From making decisions on policies and procedures to collaborating with the rest of the team and vendors on a training plan, an executive sponsor is the person within the district responsible for the overall success of the project. A robust emergency management initiative should also include all stakeholders. Knowing there are multiple departments that need to be trained—from the safety team to your front office staff—means each department needs to be aligned on training plans as well as on the policies and procedures.
FUNDING YOUR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT INITIATIVES
There are often funding and grant opportunities available to support your school emergency management initiatives. The guide offers an overview of the several funding sources and advises on how to advocate for funding support.
CONTINUOUS INVESTMENT AND SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE
When it comes to emergency management, there is no final step. There are always new considerations around safety, changes to statutes and regulations, and professional as well as cultural shifts to account for. Emergency management is a long-term investment of your time, energy, and resources. When you invest in the right people and tools, it creates the ultimate benefit: safety and peace of mind for everyone in your community.
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Design the best approach for your school and every person inside it—because we all know there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. We wrote this guide based on our nearly 20 years of experience and our partnerships with industry experts and 35,000+ K-12 U.S. schools.