Kids go to school every day hoping and believing that all will go well. After all, a school should be one of the safest places to send a child. But emergencies happen all the time. Even if the risk to any individual school is low, following guidelines is essential to be prepared in advance. Whether schools are divided by elementary, middle, and high school divisions or have all levels within one school, the minutes or hours after an emergency are likely to be chaotic. Fire drills, active shooter training and earthquake preparedness lessons (depending on location) are a few of the ways schools teach guidelines and basic rules to follow in case of an emergency.
The most important thing is for both the students and staff to stay safe and secure. Below are some helpful guidelines for school safety during emergencies.
With any situation, there should always be prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery techniques. Each of these techniques, if fully developed, will help the students and staff get through the emergency as smoothly as possible in that situation. With natural disasters, it can be impossible to know when say an earthquake or flood will occur. But of the three emergencies listed here, it is the easiest to develop a comprehensive plan for. Besides securing the building itself and making sure it can withstand an earthquake there are some guidelines that should be used to secure the people within the building; this includes:
- Practicing “drop, cover, and hold on” - Drop, cover, and hold on technique is a procedure that should be practiced beforehand and should be applied during a real emergency.
- Conducting earthquake drills - Creating a plan is one thing, and applying it is another. You need to practice these drills to be able to find possible complications or obstacles that may occur with the plan itself. If you have more than one idea, then apply all available plans to see which would fit best given the number of people on site.
- Practicing evacuation plans / Prepare for a “search and rescue” - It may be hard to know which of your staff or students have come into the building and which have not. According to InVentry Limited, an evacuation application would be very useful during emergencies as it will help you access who is and is not on site, regardless of whether they are staff, a student or just a visitor. In some schools, attendance is also taken on paper rather than electronically. In both cases, it will become very difficult in an emergency to know for sure who to actually search for. This increases the risks to first responders as well. There are other systems that track the sign-in for both teachers and students and can be accessed via a smartphone.
Although schools are generally very safe, the number of school shootings across the U.S. has made training for these situations critical. These threats are often extremely difficult to detect, so following a plan beforehand is very important for schools. Some guidelines include, but are not limited to;
- Having a quick-lock doors and panic buttons that are not too obvious. Panic buttons can be by the teachers’ desks so that they can be accessed easily. In some schools, metal detectors are also useful.
- Preparing pupils for this beforehand by always notifying an adult if they see something odd, and by teaching how to stay calm in a situation such as this one.
- One essential rule to have is communication systems in place. Communication with parents is extremely necessary. In some situations, parents may find out on the news and their attempts to get in touch with children or visit the school can make a situation become even more chaotic. Sending an alert of what is going on can keep parents aware and calm.
In case of a fire, as mentioned, a fire drill that occurs beforehand will ensure the safety of everyone. Some guidelines to follow include:
- Having sprinklers, fire alarm “pulls”, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers all around the school as is typically already in place under local laws.
- Displayed blueprints of the school to aid visitors, students and staff as well as first responders to maneuver through the school smoothly
- Creating several locations to meet after the evacuation has occurred
- Having each teacher prepared to guide the students under their care to these meeting areas
There are many tools that can be used to secure the people within a school during an emergency. After the tools have been used and the students and staff are as secure as they can be (or where sheltering in place is not advisable), evacuation becomes the most important step. An application or a record system that tracks people on site will help emergency personal find and help any individuals still inside. It is essential that you have both a plan A and plan B, and if possible, even create a plan C for each emergency that can happen. After all, the safety of the students and staff is the paramount concern for all schools.