September is National Preparedness Month, which is a good time to remember that preparedness must be part of everyday life—at home, at school, and throughout the community. Schools are central hubs that connect students and their families to local community partners. This means that safe and prepared schools not only improve the learning environment, but also make communities a safer place in an emergency situation. As such, it is important for faculty, staff, parents, and students to make preparedness part of the daily routine—especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Whole community approach
To strengthen safety, security, and emergency management, schools must become proactive partners in community preparedness, and at the same time, community members must play a strong role in school safety and security. This collaboration between a school and its surrounding community is known as the whole community approach.
For example, a comprehensive school emergency planning team includes faculty and staff, local first responders, local emergency managers, and faith-based organizations. Since many of these individuals are also parents, this participation ensures parental input in the planning process without jeopardizing confidential and secure parts of emergency and security plans.
The whole community approach encourages dialogue, which helps ensure an efficient and effective response and recovery whenever bad things happen. It also boosts confidence in a school’s ability to provide safe and secure learning environments, where children and their communities can thrive.
Benefits of the whole community approach include:
- Strong collaboration among schools and community partners
- Better understanding of community needs and ways needs are addressed, particularly when disaster threatens or occurs
- Community partnerships that extend beyond emergency preparedness and benefit children
- Recognition of community capabilities and resources to enhance the abilities of all partners
- Empowerment of schools and communities
Use the whole community approach to strengthen relationships with community partners including police officers, firefighters, EMS, public health, community leaders, and volunteer organizations.
Invite community partners to:
- Be a part of the emergency planning or review process to ensure that plans address the needs and capabilities of the community.
- Identify ways to strengthen and sustain partnerships and teachable moments throughout the school year.
- Visit campuses for library reading time, career days, or coffee with teachers and staff to develop more positive relationships between schools and community partners.
Of course, when interacting with your community, make sure that all events and activities meet your local public health and safety guidelines during the pandemic.
With the whole community approach in mind, your approach to emergency preparedness should also include important components such as reliable information, up-to-date documentation, and go-kits packed with useful resources.
An important step in the preparedness process is to ensure that all students, faculty, staff, and parents register for the emergency notification system that the school uses to keep them informed. People who have previously registered should ensure that this information is up to date at the start of the school year and inform school officials of any changes during the year. In addition, they should have an ICE or “In Case of Emergency” information listing on their cell phones.
Between the pandemic and the ever-changing nature of safety, your district needs to be prepared for a variety of situations. Equip your organization with adaptable, documented plans that prepare you to respond to whatever you face. You should update or develop the following documents:
- An all-hazards Emergency Operations Plan that details procedures for emergency response, preparedness, prevention, mitigation, and recovery.
- A Public Health and Medical Plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities to be performed by your employees in the event of a health crisis or emergency.
- A Continuity of Operations Plan that addresses the aftermath of emergency incidents, so you can deliver essential functions even during unexpected scenarios.
All your district’s plans and documentation must be tailored to your organization’s specific needs to ensure a safe and effective response.
Whether the emergency is a power outage, severe weather, active threat, or a public health incident, preparedness is the first step to staying safe and calm. A go-kit is a great way to be prepared during an emergency. These kits can be as simple or as complex as needed to meet the needs of the individual or campus.
Classroom go-kits should include:
- Extra batteries
- Extra cell phone charger (crank or solar are recommended)
- Spare set of glasses
- Extra medications
- First Aid supplies
- Hard copy of list of important phone numbers for family members, close friends, and physicians, as well as copies of medical insurance, medication lists, and other important documents
- A copy of the family, district or campus emergency operations plan
Classroom go-kits should include the items listed above as well a variety of classroom specific resources. These classroom resources include:
- Bucket for storing items
- Red card Green card (if applicable, per the District Emergency Operations Plan)
- Class rosters
- Tarp or ground cover
- Age-appropriate time passers
- Vest or other identifiers
- Paper and Pens
Students should also be encouraged to keep a small readiness kit in their backpack or locker in case an emergency occurs during school hours. College students should have a kit in their dorm room that is in an easily accessible location, such as on a closet shelf, beneath a desk, or under the bed. Likewise, teachers, faculty, and staff should have an easily accessible go-kit for their classroom or office.
COVID-19 has introduced a range of new risks to consider, so classroom go-kits should also be packed with the following items to stay safe and sanitary during the pandemic:
- Face masks
- Face shields
- Hand sanitizer
For optimal cleanliness, go-kits can include disinfectants as well. However, disinfectants should only be administered by employees who have the necessary training and licensing to do so legally. Be sure to check that you follow state rules and regulations regarding chemical usage before designating employees to apply disinfectants.
Help you can trust to stay prepared
The TASB Risk Management Fund has been helping educational entities prepare for and respond to emergencies for decades. For more information about emergency preparedness, contact Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss. For further preparedness resources and information, visit the National Preparedness Month webpage.