Emergency Response Planning for Schools
–By Ron French–
In the Past
School safety procedures have historically focused on Facility Evacuation or Fire Drill exercises. These exercises are typically performed on a regular basis throughout the school year. Facility Evacuation procedures are the appropriate response for fire emergencies and for certain other threats, such as bomb threats and internal hazardous releases.
Over the last few years, Terrorist Attacks and Hostile Intruder situations have emerged as serious threats. These threats require “Emergency Lockdown” or “Shelter-in-Place” procedures be executed – the exact opposite of a Facility Evacuation. Terrorist Attacks and Hostile Intruder situations constitute life-threatening events and conducting a Facility Evacuation or failing to respond properly could be a fatal mistake. Emergency Lockdown procedures are also appropriate for other situations such as external hazardous releases and, with some modification, tornado emergencies.
Responding to the New Threats
Teachers and staff are frequently the initial responders to an emergency situation. In particular, teachers are viewed as role models and leaders by their students. In an emergency situation students will likely follow the advice of their teachers and other adults. Yet very few of these initial responders have any formal training in emergency response.
Schools need to supply all their employees with proper emergency response procedures. These instructions need to be written in a concise manner and need to address all current threats. In addition, management needs to review these procedures with employees at meetings. Armed with this information teachers will be in a position to discuss these procedures with their students. Most importantly, as with Facility Evacuation exercises, Emergency Lockdown procedures need to be practiced.
As we mentioned, threats that trigger an Emergency Lockdown are likely to be life-threatening. Initially these exercises may cause some stress for all involved but it is critically important that everyone knows the proper action steps. In the longer term, these exercises will give everyone some level of empowerment in an actual emergency situation that might otherwise be overwhelming.
The need to communicate emergency instructions during a crisis situation is central to the effectiveness of executing the Emergency Management Plan. Communicating accurate and sufficiently detailed information represents an important challenge. Typically alarms alert everyone to conduct a Facility Evacuation. Although detailed information (fire, bomb threat, etc.) cannot be communicated, the basic advice to evacuate the facility is disseminated.
At a minimum some type of siren is needed to alert everyone to a dangerous condition outside of the classroom and that an Emergency Lockdown needs to be performed. In addition to a siren, I believe that it is very important for every school to utilize an intercom system. Emergency information regarding a hostile intruder, hazardous release (accidental or intentional), etc. can not be effectively communicated by a siren alone.
Depending on the specific threat there are important differences in the exact Emergency Lockdown procedures. For example for a Hostile Intruder threat, doors need to be locked, windows and window treatments should be closed, everyone should get out of sight, etc. For a tornado threat with time permitting, you would probably want to relocate individuals in outside rooms to interior corridors – you would not perform this procedure in a Hostile Intruder situation. Realistically it is not possible to communicate specific advice by siren making intercom systems a very valuable asset.
Everyone needs to develop a plan to conduct an Emergency Lockdown (basic procedures are listed below). Specialized procedures to respond to a Hostile Intruder, a Terrorist Attack, and other events that require the execution of an Emergency Lockdown also need to be developed. All procedures need to be communicated to everyone involved or potentially affected. Most importantly these plans and procedures need to be practiced. Practicing Emergency Lockdown procedures is as important as practicing Facility Evacuations.
General Emergency Lockdown Procedures
-An Emergency Lockdown (or “Shelter-in-Place”) will be announced by intercom or other voice communication.
-If a situation that may require an Emergency Lockdown is discovered, the individual making the discovery shall immediately contact Police/Security and provide as much information as possible.
-Fire evacuation alarms are not to be sounded.
-Lock classroom and other doors.
-Close windows & window treatments.
-Turn off lights.
-Everyone is to remain quiet and not enter hallways.
-Should the fire alarm sound, do not evacuate the building unless:
-You have first hand knowledge that there is a fire in the building, or
-You have been advised by Police/Security to evacuate the building.
-Crouch down in areas that are out of sight from doors and windows.
-Students in hallways are to seek shelter in the nearest classroom.
-Students in outdoor areas should immediately take cover. Return to the gym if it is safe to do so. If the threat is outdoors on campus grounds, all outdoor activities should be cancelled.