Taking the Lead in an Emergency

Article excerpt

THE EVENTS OF RECENT YEARSFROM THE TERRORIST attacks of 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to school shootings-have taught us some hard lessons. We know we have to be better prepared in emergency situations. School administrators are faced with the extremely daunting responsibility of keeping their students and staff safe. There are, however, a number of resources to help them in that task, and many of them are free from government sources, such as the "Bomb Threat Response" CD-ROM developed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

The first step is prevention whenever possible, and that begins with a safety audit of school buildings and grounds. The U.S. Department Education offers a guide on preparing your school for a crisis, with suggestions that include connecting with community emergency responders to identify local hazards and determining major problems in your school with regard to student crime and violence. The department's Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program's "The Three R's to Dealing with Trauma in Schools: Readiness, Response and Recovery" is intended to help schools with strategies to incorporate the mental health needs of students and staff into their safeschool plans, and illustrates promising school-based models that help schools prevent and respond to trauma.

Good planning and preparation is necessary for an effective response to a crisis, so the Department of Education guide suggests gathering information about your facility that includes maps and the location of utility shutoffs. There should also be procedures in place for communicating with staff, students, families and the media in the event of a crisis.

The Department of Education's Emergency Response and Crisis Management Technical Assistance Center suggests creating "go-kits"-portable emergency supply kits. Administrators, teachers and othersperhaps school nurses or building engineers-should have kits with supplies they need for their particular responsibilities.

The Administration "go-kit" suggested contents include a list of all students (and descriptions of those with special needs), a list of school personnel, the school's emergency procedures, key contact information for the district crisis team, a parent-student reunification plan and utility turnoff procedures. Equipment should include batteryoperated flashlight (and batteries), a whistle, an emergency communication device and a first-aid kit with instructions. It is also suggested that the administrator wear something such as a hat or brightly colored vest to provide visibility and identification as a leader.

Classroom teachers should also have a kit of supplies that includes the list of students and their special needs, a list of classroom personnel and the school's emergency procedures. In addition, they should have activities that can be used to keep their students occupied-and hopefully somewhat calm.

The American Red Cross also offers an extensive list of recommended supplies for a school to have in stock in case of emergency. These include water, a first aid kit, sanitation supplies, food, and tools such as a pry bar, pick ax, hammer, shovel, pliers, utility shu toff wrench, and barrier tape. What you need will vary depending on a number of factors, such as the most likely hazards for your area, how close emergency assistance is and the commuting distance for the majority of your students. …