Crisis Planning for Schools

Topics: Loss Control

The start of a new school year means getting fresh school supplies and establishing new routines. It also means for teachers and school adminstrators, making sure possible events are planned for, from make-up days for hurricanes and snow days to crisis planning in the event the unthinkable happens. The main goal of all educational organizations is to provide a great learning experience for their students, but it is also necessary for schools and universities to have a crisis management plan in place. Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, fires and tornadoes can strike a community and its schools with little or no warning. Events like school shootings, threatened or actual, also must be planned for.

Crisis planning for schools is an in-depth exercise that varies from school to school, but the basics are universal and should be thoroughly understood by all who work in education. Having a response plan in place before problems occur is critical to helping to restore normalcy and reducing damages. One of the best preparations for the unpredictable is crisis education for students, faculty and administrators that clearly spells out how to respond to a variety of crisis events.


Properly Planning with a Crisis Management Plan

Experts have noted that when crises occur, individuals involved tend to go on autopilot. There is no time during the crisis to think about what to do next, so everyone involved should know what to do ahead of time. When a crisis occurs, staff should know how to react; they should know the signals for crisis, the protocol for lockdown and evacuation, how to dismiss students and what to do if staff or students need help. Without a response plan and crisis education, the chances of responding appropriately in a crisis are generally much lower than if all players have practiced the basic steps they will need to take.

This readiness typically begins with a crisis management plan. A carefully selected team should identify the types of crises that may occur and define what events would activate the plan. Knowing this information allows the team to better address four major areas: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
  • Mitigation and prevention require taking inventory of the dangers in a school and community and identifying what to do to prevent and reduce injury and property damage should something happen.
  • Preparedness means investing time and resources to facilitate rapid, coordinated, effective responses. Don’t reinvent the wheel; consider existing efforts so there is no redundancy and to ensure no area is overlooked. Define roles and responsibilities, and develop methods for communicating with staff, students, families, and the media. Preparedness also means having the necessary equipment and supplies on hand, and practicing responses to crises with drills.
  • Response is what happens when the plan must be implemented. A crisis is rarely anticipated, so expect to be surprised. The response should happen as quickly as possible and may include evacuating or locking down the school; triaging injuries and providing emergency first aid to those who need it; and keeping supplies nearby and organized at all times. Leaders need to project a calm, confident, and serious attitude to reassure people of the wisdom of the directions being given during a crisis situation.
  • Recovery is the process of returning to learning and restoring the infrastructure of the school. Focus on students and the physical plant and take as much time as needed for recovery. School staff can be trained to deal with the emotional impact of the crisis, as well as to initially assess the emotional needs of students, staff, and responders.

Keep in mind a few established best practices when developing your own crisis education and planning programs:


Crisis plans should not be developed in a vacuum

These plans are a natural extension of ongoing school and community efforts to create safe learning environments, and as such should involve all aspects of the school’s community. Schools should consider tailoring district crisis plans to meet individual school needs and provide teachers and staff with ready access to the plan so they can understand its components and act on them.


Keep the most crucial components of your crisis management plan at your fingertips

Administrators should organize the information and resources they need to properly respond to a crisis. Some things you might want to include in a crisis response pack include:
  • A “Command Tree” that designates a single point person to undertake or coordinate official, emergency and media communications.
  • A reverse 911 communication system, with instructions readily available to key persons in the Command Tree.
  • A text-based notification and alert system.
  • Checklist pages from the crisis plan.
  • Cell phone.
  • A copy of important phone numbers such as district and building level administrators, inter-agencies, key parents and media.
  • Staff and student directories.
  • Media guide or fact sheet about your school.
  • Daily attendance record.
  • Evacuation site contact numbers.
  • Instructions on how to disconnect internet and television leads.

Administrators should also consider an at-home packet for themselves in case a problem occurs in off-hours. For example, if a principal is notified of a break-in where the phone system has been destroyed, she or he needs to have phone directories to begin making calls, starting with the superintendent at home.


Plan for after the crisis is over

Crises aren’t over once the dust settles; those affected will remember the event and need to process it in their own time with the help of mental health resources. It can help to remember anniversaries of crises, as many occasions will remind staff, students and families of the event. Teachers and staff should be sensitive to their own as well as the students’ reactions in such situations and provide support when necessary. School crisis planning guides suggest holding appropriate memorial services or other activities, such as planting a tree in memory of crisis victims. This is also a good time to review the plan and evaluate its effectiveness, relevancy and need for updating.

Mitigate risks and have proper coverage

The final piece of the crisis management plan is being properly and sufficiently insured while also lowering your risks. Through education, training and onsite surveys, working with loss control experts can help identify and reduce risks to make schools safer. Having non-profit insurance can help make the recovery easier, smoother, and faster in the event that a crisis does occur. Make sure your insurance plan is appropriate for your organization and review the policy at least annually to be sure it is meeting your school’s needs.

AmTrust policyholders can find a variety of free resources, including free, streaming emergency preparedness videos, simply by registering on our website. Click here to complete the form today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Contact your local RSM for more information.
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