I have been writing for Meridian Magazine for more than fifteen years. We have reviewed natural disaster, pandemics, civil unrest, budgeting, firestorms, food storage, kits and so much more. Much has changed in fifteen years. With recent events, it seems appropriate to examine emergencies in our children’s schools. Are your schools as safe as they could be not just in case of a violent act, but also should there be another type of emergency such as a weather-related challenge?
School parking lots, classrooms, and playgrounds will be full again in a few days or weeks. Parents will complete piles of forms, open houses will be held, and across the continent, moms and dads will breathe a sigh of relief that classes are in session once again. However, have you asked how your school has prepared for a disruption?
The United States Department of Education has made the following recommendation: “We strongly urge schools to have a plan for dealing with crisis, including crisis such as school shootings (including lockdowns), suicides, and major accidents, as well as large-scale disasters (including natural disasters), that have significant impact on schools throughout the country. Schools that do not have a school safety plan should implement a plan immediately.”
Teachers, administrators, school support staff, and classroom volunteers, are the first responders during any emergency which occurs in our schools, but are they prepared? As I researched, I discovered there is a minimum of three school lockdowns every day somewhere in the United States. I was amazed at the places where these were happening, from small rural schools to large inner-city schools and in every state.
Having been involved in school lockdowns myself, I know how frightening they can be. When I was a high school student, our high school was locked down several times due to civil unrest. It was a time of extreme racial tension in the country and our high school was a target for those wanting to incite violent unrest. Agitators were bussed in to prey on vulnerable students easily manipulated into believing lies. Friends turned against friends and gangs threatened those who remained loyal to those whose skin color was different than their own. Guns and knives were discovered in lockers and eventually a very large police presence was on campus every day. I would call my parents at work each day as soon as I got home or to my job after school. I prayed my children would never have to experience anything even remotely similar.
Years passed and one day there was a lockdown at the high school my son attended. There was a gunman on the loose after he had shot someone in an apartment complex a block from the school. I was in the counseling office between class assignments and there was plenty of food and water – but no restroom. I was with great people, and we had snacks. Immediately I thought of my son, and realized he was in band. Hallelujah! There was a restroom in the music building. As we waited for several hours, parents began arriving to pick up their high school students. There was no plan in place, we watched as parents and their younger children walked around outside the school while we were in lockdown, remember there was a gunman on the loose in the neighborhood. There was no plan beyond locking the students in.
What can you do? First, determine what disasters might threaten the schools your children attend. Should the schools be prepared for earthquakes, flash floods, wildfires, or loss of power during winter conditions? All schools should be preparing for civil unrest, intruders, lockdowns, and fires.
You can help your schools prepare by asking some specific questions of your school principal and school board. If the questions have never been asked, the solutions are probably not in place.
Does your school have a written emergency plan? If so, ask for a copy and read it carefully to determine if it answers the following questions. If they don’t have one, it is time to get involved and help create a plan. If there is one, can it be improved?
A good plan should include:
- A Crisis Management Team. This team should include administrators, teachers and classified staff members who all have specific assignments during an emergency. A clear chain of command should be in place and individual assignments and responsibilities should include:
- Safe evacuation.
- Notification of authorities.
- Notification of parents.
- Identification and confirmation of the location of every student.
- Medical assistance.
- Student needs such as sanitation, food, and water.
- Communication between all school employees.
- Parent and student reunification.
- A Communication Plan:
- How will the staff communicate with each other during a crisis?
- If the electricity is out, how will they communicate? Does the school have walkie-talkies, a public address system?
- What is the plan to notify the office if a child was out of the classroom when the emergency or lockdown occurred?
- How will the school notify parents? Is there a web notification plan in place? Will there be a recorded phone message? Can this be delivered to more than one phone number per family? If the school will only notify you at one phone number and you have more than one child in the school, make their emergency phone numbers different, just in case you are away from your phone. One child could use your cell phone number and one your spouse’s cell or work number, or a grandparent’s number.
- How will the school notify students who are outside of the building in a PE class or at lunch, that they need to return to the building?
- How and who will decide whether a school should be dismissed early and how parents will be notified?
- Is there parent contact information available in the classroom as well as in the office?
- How can a student report suspicious behavior of another student online or on campus?
- How can a student report an unknown person on campus?
- Have all school staff been trained in emergency first aid and CPR?
- Have staff been trained in evacuation and report procedures, and have they held practice drills?
- Have children been trained and drilled in the proper response to a likely emergency? In other words, if you live in earthquake country do they practice drop and cover? Do they know what to do in event of a lockdown, and has it been practiced?
- Have staff been trained how to reunite children with their parents or designated caregiver? When my daughter lived in North Carolina, children stood with their teacher every day at dismissal time until the teacher saw the parent or caregiver and then the child was allowed to leave.
- Is there similar staff training available for parent volunteers?
- How often does training occur?
- Security Procedures:
- How is visitor access monitored?
- How many doors are left unlocked with free access available during the school day?
- Are doors alarmed?
- Who is responsible to monitor doors?
- What security is in place for large gatherings such as athletic events and assemblies?
- Are there parking lots next to classrooms which are open to public parking? We have not experienced many car bombs at schools but they are a real possibility. Also, if it is only a few feet from a parked car to a place where students gather, how easy would it be for a child to be snatched? Parking next to a classroom should be eliminated or fenced off, locked, and available for staff parking only, whenever possible.
- How are students picked up after school? Are there staff members available to control traffic and observe adults picking up children?
- Has the staff been trained to recognize suspicious mail?
- Do students and staff know how to spot and report suspicious activity on and around school grounds?
- How often are security procedures reviewed?
- Can teachers lock their classroom in case of a threat?
- If there are windows in doors or outside windows, can they be covered so intruders can’t see in?
- When will a school evacuation be ordered?
- Where is the student evacuation site? An evacuation site should be close enough for students to walk. It should be free of barriers such as fences and streams. It should provide shelter if possible.
- Disaster Supplies:
- Does each classroom and office have the following supplies?
- Nonperishable food (such as energy bars with a 5-year shelf life – which will save money and time in the long run).
- Battery or crank radio, one with a siren is even better!
- First aid kit.
- Flashlight or glow sticks (I like glow sticks because you don’t have to worry about batteries).
- Mylar space blankets (can be used as blankets or have a slit cut in them for protection from the rain or snow. Yes, earthquakes and other disaster can happen when it is raining or snowing).
- Sanitation supplies including a port-a-potty, wet wipes, TP and biohazard bags. A few years ago, a teacher was fired after a school lockdown for allowing his students to use a trash can as a potty. He had the students of the same sex surround the student using the facility, but he was later told this was unacceptable even though the school was in lockdown. He was told he should have called the office, and someone would have come for the kids… What??? How is that a lockdown? If there is enough danger for a lockdown to be issued at all, why would you usher kids from a classroom and put them in harms way, for any reason, except a life-threatening illness or injury?
- Duct tape and sheeting – it’s great to cover windows if there is a threat on campus. Mylar blankets also work great to keep warm in a winter power outage.
- Student attendance roll with contact information.
- Supplies should be contained in backpacks or buckets with handles so thy can easily be moved to an evacuation area.
- Does each classroom and office have the following supplies?
Now that you understand the needs which may be unmet in your schools, get involved and get busy. It should not be difficult to get school boards and community members involved in making sure classrooms are adequately supplied.
You may need to help supplement school or district budgets to accomplish your goals. Parents are usually more than happy to contribute a few dollars to make sure their children are protected. Some schools are now requiring either a personal preparedness kit or parents are assessed an amount to provide a classroom kit. Remind the community that even if students never use the supplies you have on hand, schools are often designated as shelters during a disaster and those supplies will be invaluable at that time. We all know relief agencies have warned us to be prepared to be on our own for at least the first 72 hours, even in a shelter. Most agencies now recommend being prepared for more than 72 hours.
Violence in schools has been on the rise for several years. We have come to understand there are many reasons for this and in a world with media influences around us feeding us conflicting information it is no surprise tensions and confusion has increased. It’s not the guns or knives or backpack bombs that kill and destroy. School violence is not the only concern for our children. Disasters of all kinds can threaten safety in schools.
Whether in elementary school, high school, or college, our children deserve our most thoughtful efforts to see that they are protected and provided for in the event of a real emergency. With planning and the cooperation of school administrators, teachers, classified staff, parents and student safety is proven to be possible in any neighborhood or community – even yours!
Carolyn is always available to answer questions and share tips at Totallyready.com and on Facebook. For those wanting information or to participate creating Christmas ornaments for disaster survivors visit Operation Christmas Ornaments on Facebook and on Carolyn’s blog.
Catch Carolyn on Annette on America:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrFKyecixeo (prepping for blackouts and civil unrest)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO_XUJMC008 (prepping for recession)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjtEdX0h2OA&t=2507s (prepping for inflation)