Schools have shown incredible dedication, flexibility, and innovation as COVID-19 forced them to address the many urgent threats of the pandemic. Now—about a year after the virus began to impact our communities—schools must continue COVID-19 response while supporting daily operations and focusing on student and staff safety.
This focus on safety must consider safety policies and procedures, like being prepared for any emergency, maintaining an updated emergency operations plan (EOP), and ensuring only approved individuals have school access. Although COVID-19 requires us to address other critical issues—such as limiting exposure risk, reconfiguring classrooms for optimal physical distancing, and sanitizing our buildings—it’s important that we also focus on traditional safety measures.
Being Prepared for Any Emergency
When parents send their children to school, they expect that school to keep them safe. Teachers and staff also expect safety in their workplace. These expectations encompass manmade incidents like violence and crime as well as natural dangers such as inclement weather and pandemics. Being prepared for any emergency requires a robust emergency management approach that can accomplish the following:
- Manage drills that enable students, teachers, and staff to respond to events confidently
- Instantly summon the appropriate help for any incident
- Provide first responders and staff with immediate access to your school’s EOP and building diagrams
- Seamlessly account for everyone on campus
- Efficiently reunify each student with their guardian
Emergency management is a long-term investment of your time, energy, and resources. Investing in a powerful, trusted solution with a proven safety partner creates the ultimate benefit: safety and peace of mind for everyone in your community.
Maintaining Your Emergency Operations Plan
Although FEMA has advised schools to include pandemic response in their emergency operations plans (EOPs) for several years, there was little actionable need to prioritize pandemic response above other safety concerns. COVID-19 has changed that. Updating your EOP for pandemic response—especially with any lessons learned from COVID-19—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.
The updated EOP should address any adjustments you have made in response to COVID-19. As one example, some schools have used exterior tents and kiosks to reduce traffic in hallways. That can result in crowds of students waiting outside. Even the most expansive EOPs may not have accounted for this set-up. Think about what an emergency response would look like in this situation, and don’t forget to communicate these changes with law enforcement, first responder agencies, and guardians.
Schools have also had to adjust how they perform drills. It’s still possible—and important—to conduct drills to create muscle memory and test your processes. Your EOP should clearly state how you will adapt drills during a pandemic. As examples, some schools decided to conduct drills with one half of the school population at a time, while others continued typical drills but required everyone to wear masks and socially distance.
Safeguarding Your Schools
Not following key practices can put your school in harm. For example, schools may want to prop open doors to avoid people touching handles but consider what would happen if the school needed to go on lockdown. Staff would have to manually shut and lock those doors—and when every second counts in an emergency—that process could be the difference in a successful emergency response or a tragic situation. Open doors also allow violent intruders or unwanted entrants easier access to your buildings.
Knowing who is on campus is critical. Screening visitors not only for COVID-19 exposure risk but also for sex offender status or custody restrictions is the first line of defense in maintaining a safe environment. Schools, especially those who have limited visitation or have moved to remote learning models, may question why they should implement a visitor management system during the pandemic. A robust visitor management system includes screening visitors for sex offender status and custody alerts as well as helping keep the school community safe from COVID-19 exposure.
Broward County Public Schools wanted a visitor management system in place before the 2020/2021 school year, and in collaboration with a school safety partner, quickly and successfully implemented their system within weeks—all during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district now has a visitor management system that will assist with their COVID-19 response and continue to help keep their schools safe long after the pandemic ends.
Continuous Investment and Sustained Excellence
There is no final step to school safety. There are always new considerations around safety, changes to statutes and regulations, and professional as well as cultural shifts to account for. When evaluating emergency management and visitor management solutions, it’s just as important to pick the right company as it is the right product since the two will go hand–in–hand.
For nearly 20 years, Raptor Technologies has been the nation’s leading provider of school safety software solutions. Today, over 35,000 K-12 schools nationwide are protected by at least one Raptor integrated safety solution. To learn more about Raptor, contact us today to set up a personalized demo.