Until recently, drill policy and procedures were based on best and proven practices, as well as lessons learned, with very little legislative guidance. However, Senate Bill 11 and Texas Education Agency (TEA) rules released in July 2020 gave districts updated guidance regarding drills.
Drills are procedures that test a single safety operation or function. According to TEA, school emergency and safety drills shall be conducted each semester of the school year, not to exceed eight drills each semester and 16 drills for the entire school year. Here is an overview of drills your organization is required to perform.
The primary objective of an evacuation is to ensure that all staff, students, and visitors can quickly move away from the threat. For example, you could hold a fire drill to ensure everyone knows how to exit safely, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Districts may also need to evacuate after a lockdown drill.
TEA requires a minimum of four fire/evacuation drills per school year (two per semester). Local fire marshals can suggest more drills each year, or even require them in the fire code. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, documented participation in fire suppression activities may reduce community fire insurance rates.
These drills should test procedures for removing people from a life-threatening situation inside the school building. These actions include ensuring all students are out of the halls, classroom lights are turned off, and doors are locked. TEA requires that each campus and district facility hold at least one lockdown drill per semester.
In a secure-lockout drill, schools practice securing buildings and grounds during incidents that pose a threat or hazard outside of the school building. Secure-lockout uses the physical facility as a barrier between students and staff and the hazard. Students may change classes; however, they must stay in the building until all clear is given. TEA requires that each campus and district facility hold at least one secure–lockout drill per school year.
Shelter - Severe weather
These drills test actions that a school takes to move students, staff, and visitors indoors quickly and efficiently due to a tornado, other severe weather, or other outdoor risk. Individuals may be required to move to areas inside the building that are without windows and are on the lowest floor possible. Weather drills also may move students to a designated weather shelter. TEA requires that each campus and district facility perform at least one severe weather drill per year.
These drills test actions that schools take to move students, staff, and visitors indoors for an extended time to avoid environmental contaminants such as chemical spills or heavy smoke due to wildfires. Affected individuals may be required to move to rooms without windows or to rooms that can be sealed from contaminants. TEA requires each campus and district facility to perform at least one hazmat drill per year.
Regardless of the specific drills being conducted, schools can follow best practices to help ensure the process is effective and efficient.
Document drill procedures
The new rules require school districts to conduct drills that help keep students, faculty, staff, and visitors safe during an actual emergency. Drill procedures should be outlined in district and campus emergency operations plans, which means existing plans and drill guidance must be updated.
Plan drills strategically
Drills can be held in correlation with other drills. This helps minimize the impact on educational time. For example, a school could evacuate after a lockdown drill, and then come back inside for a lockout/secure drill, which could lead into a severe weather or hazmat drill.
Account for student age
Drill scenarios should be adjusted depending on the ages of the students. For example, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes could practice a lockdown due to a skunk who wandered onto campus, and the threat could be increased based on grade level and understanding.
Consider stakeholder needs
Drill procedures must consider the needs of students, faculty, staff, and visitors with special needs. Every reasonable effort must be made to accommodate all stakeholders.
Drills should allow time for staff and students to discuss their concerns and provide feedback to campus administrators. Feedback can be provided anonymously or through post-drill surveys. This information will be discussed during an after-action review and developed into a corrective action plan. These corrective actions will then be used to revise district and campus emergency operations plans.
Need drill support or help with emergency operations plans?
The Fund is here to support our members and help them prepare for, respond to, and recover from medical crises, natural disasters, school violence, and other emergencies. Members of our Auto, Liability, Property, and Workers’ Compensation programs can request support from Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss at 512.505.2868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.