Today, more so than ever, school administrators must be prepared for all types of emergencies, and to do this, they need help. Of course, you can’t be 100-percent prepared since an emergency is unexpected and things change. However, there are ways to ensure your school is as prepared as it can be, so when the time comes everyone knows what to do to help mitigate the situation.
In schools, active shooter incidents typically come to mind first, based on the news headlines we see daily, but there are a lot of other incidents to prepare for. For example, regular emergency responses that take place include:
• Medical emergencies such as a heart attack, lethal allergy, seizure, or critical injury
• Fire in a chemistry lab or cafeteria
• A missing student
• Violence against teachers or amongst students
• Illegal substances or potential weapons on site
• Non-emergency injuries
Seminole County Public Schools in Florida has put procedures and technologies in place to help keep administrators, students, and the community as safe as possible during one of these events. The county boasts a population of more than 450,000 people with 61 K-12 schools consisting of 66,000 students and 8,000 employees. With thousands of lives on the line, maintaining safety throughout an emergency event requires timely updates, open communication, and collaboration between all stakeholders.
(Next page: Steps to take for emergency preparedness)
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4 steps to take
Here are four simple steps that may help you create a plan to improve your emergency preparedness:
1. Establish uniformity.
Be sure that you’re always handling issues with the same process. Uniformity throughout the school system and community provides consistency. This continuity creates less confusion, offers more structure, and, in turn, minimizes error. For instance, if schools within the same district have different emergency response plans but both report to the same police station, this could cause confusion and a slower response time from the dispatcher. Having each school react to an incident with the same procedures allows dispatchers to assess the situation faster and send the appropriate personnel to the scene quickly.
When a response isn’t second nature, there is naturally more room for error. Remember, emergencies breed chaos. Keep things consistent and ingrain it in your staff, students, and community. We encourage schools to consider a simple “all hazard approach” to emergency-response plans that are simple and can get school administrators through the first few minutes of any emergency.
2. Conduct a school assessment.
What works for one school doesn’t necessarily work for another. Take a high school versus an elementary school. Unlike elementary school students, high school students can evacuate the building on their own. Younger students need more help and guidance during an emergency event, so response plans should reflect these differences. It’s also important to take into consideration potential facility enhancements, teacher and student training and drills, areas of improvement for risk mitigation, etc.
3. Embrace technology. It’s imperative to adopt life-saving technology in this day and age. The right technology can support existing resources and improve response times by accelerating communication and information-sharing capabilities. A solution such as the Rave Panic Button can provide instant notification, location-based alerting, increased control, management, and visibility during emergency situations.
Consider this example: A custodian is picking up garbage at a high school and sees a suspect approaching with a weapon. In the past, that staff member would pick up a walkie-talkie and radio the principal, hoping for an answer. Then the responsibility is placed on the principal to make the best decision: Call 9-1-1 or the school resource officer? Lock the school down? Try to scope out the situation? Where is the suspect now? This scenario could take two minutes, at best. Today, with the adoption of innovative technology, all of this (and more) can take place instantaneously–with just the push of a button.
4. Improve your communication. Prepare and adopt user-friendly technology that enhances coordination and internal communication. An important feature to look for in a school panic button app is its ability to integrate with the corresponding emergency-response technology used by your local 9-1-1 center. Communication is key, so make sure the technology can instantly send mass messages to the necessary people. It should be quick and simple and allow for outbound messages to be pushed to the end user. All methods of communication–voice, text, email, app-notification pushes, etc.–must be delivered across all devices. For example, if a coach is outside with a team, he or she needs to receive the information directly on his or her mobile phone.
There are numerous tools available to help school resource officers and emergency-management personnel keep students safe. Think outside the box and bring technology forward to ensure you’re doing all you can to be ready for a school emergency. Being organized, equipped, and prepared can truly make all the difference.