A Streamlined Reunification Process
Minimizes Fear and Chaos
When a student finds himself in a crisis event at school, one of his first thoughts is getting to safety and finding his caregivers. Moreover, research shows that the sooner students are reunited with their caregivers, the less likely they are to suffer from symptoms of traumatic stress. There are many reasons your school may need to evacuate: a gas leak, fire, weather, bomb threat, and acts of violence are just a few. No school is immune to experiencing a need for an evacuation and offsite reunification.
To minimize anxiety and trauma and to ensure that students are safely transferred from the district’s guardianship care to that of the caregiver, we recommend schools consider these top points when developing their reunification procedure:
Develop Teams with Defined Roles & Responsibilities
When developing your reunification procedure, you first need to create two teams: the Transport Team and the Reunification Team. The “I Love U Guys” Foundation defines these teams in The Standard Reunification Method V2 (SRM V2) as:
- Transport Team — The team who facilitates transport and initiates accountability processing. This team is only applicable in off-site reunifications.
- Reunification Team — The team who immediately goes to the reunification site for staging. This team is responsible for student/parent reunification and transportation for teachers and staff to return to the school.
The Transport Team’s main responsibilities are to identify a reunification site and safely transport students and staff to the site. The team must select a reunification site and two back-up facilities as one of the first steps in developing the reunification procedure. Ideally this happens over the summer, long before any incidents can occur.
When picking reunification sites, there are multiple considerations to keep in mind. A nearby facility that is unoccupied during the school day, such as a church or recreation center, and is large enough to hold your school population, parents, and volunteers is ideal. The facility should also have large rooms where you can divide your students into groups based on grade level. Ideally, faculty will walk with students to the facility. If the facility is not within walking distance, other means of transportation will be necessary to safely evacuate your school.
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, as well as for communicating information to caregivers about the reunification facility. You should also include information on nearby hospitals and fire stations for quick reference.
The Reunification Team deploys to the reunification site during the crisis to stage the site and prepare for reunification. It is imperative that this team has supplies and resources readily available at the site. Create an “evacuation go-kit” and multiple “reunification go-kits” that include floor plans, emergency contact information, writing utensils, flashlights and batteries, and other material you may need that won’t be readily available at the reunification site.
Once at the site, the team should stage the site and hang signage that directs caregivers to the check-in table. The Reunification Team is also responsible for staging the student assembly area. Best practice is to direct students to an area that is out of view of the caregivers, as you do not want caregivers to spot their child(ren) as they are exiting the bus and entering the facility.
The I Love U Guys Foundation further defines the Reunification Team roles and responsibilities — and provides resources for staging the site — in the Reunification Operation Kit.
Maintain a Calm Environment
Being involved in an emergency can be scary for everyone involved. Although it is nearly impossible to keep an anxiety-free environment during a crisis, there are many things schools can do to help students, faculty, and caregivers cope with their emotions and keep the reunification process on track.
District security and/or law enforcement personnel should be present as students, faculty, and caregivers arrive at the reunification site. Their presence will facilitate a sense of safety, and they will be able to minimize any chaos.
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 also be available to parents and caregivers. If the crisis is extreme, mental health professionals can also provide training on how to best support children as they heal from the crisis.
Streamline Your Process with Technology
The Raptor Emergency Management system aligns with the proven practices in the SRM V2 and ensures your district follows each step in the process:
- As caregivers arrive at the reunification site, Greeters explain the reunification process, ask the caregiver about who he or she is picking up, and then verify the caregiver’s ID and custody rights in the Raptor system. Raptor pulls data from your SIS and maintains student records and caregiver information, so you can be confident that your student records are up to date. Greeters then instruct caregivers to move to the reunification area.
- When a caregiver is checked into the Raptor system, an instant notification is sent to a Runner via the Raptor mobile app.
- The Runner retrieves the student from the student holding area and escorts the student to the reunification site.
- As the student is in route to the reunification area, a Reunifier calls the caregiver forward and asks for identification. When the caregiver’s identity is confirmed, the Reunifier will record the caregiver’s signature in the Raptor system; this instantly sends a text message to the student’s other approved caregivers, notifying them that the student was reunified. If an unauthorized caregiver attempts to sign out a student, faculty will know not to release the student to that individual.
With Raptor, your reunification teams can quickly search a student’s record and see their status, including where they are in the reunification facility or if they are missing, injured, or deceased. If a child is missing or marked injured or deceased, faculty should move the caregiver into a private area. More information on the reunification process can be found in The I Love U Guys “Reunification Operation Kit.”
Practice, then Practice Some More
Once your reunification process is finalized, you need to rehearse multiple times, so your faculty understand their roles and responsibilities and the established reunification protocols. Every second counts during a crisis, so being prepared is imperative.
There are many strategies you can use to practice, from informal exercises to realistic, full-scale drills. With the Raptor Emergency Management system, schools can quickly manage drills in the Drill Management module. The school can simplify drill scheduling, management, and compliance tracking; conduct and automatically record drills in the mobile app; and view and track drill data in the district dashboard. Your school should practice a reunification drill at least once a year, each at different times of the year.
If a crisis strikes your school, it is your responsibility to safely remove your students from the danger, keep track of their locations and status, and release students to only authorized caregivers. With the Raptor Emergency Management system, you can address emergency preparedness, emergency response, and emergency recovery — all in one solution and at a low cost — with 21st century technology provided by a partner who truly cares about your success.