Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

School Crisis Teams within an Incident Command System

Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

School Crisis Teams within an Incident Command System

Article excerpt

Despite the increasing attention given to the need for schools to be prepared to respond in a variety of crisis situations, there is a lack of information about how to coordinate with multiple agencies following a crisis. This article describes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (2004) National Incident Management System and its Incident Command System (ICS), which provides a common set of concepts, principles, terminology, and organizational processes to facilitate crisis response activities. The traditional school crisis team structure is compared to the ICS structure and the overlap and integration of the two are highlighted. Two case scenarios are presented to illustrate how the school crisis team may operate in compliance with the ICS in different crisis situations.

Crises are sudden, uncontrollable, and extremely negative events that have the potential to impact an entire school community (Brock, 2002). Thus, they require an organized and carefully coordinated response to meet the needs of the affected individuals. During the past two decades, there has been increased public, professional, and legislative interest in school crisis prevention and intervention. It has been recommended that comprehensive crisis teams be established at the school, district, and regional or community levels (Brock, Sandoval, & Lewis, 2001), of which school psychologists are often active members (Allen et al., 2002; Nickerson & Zhe, 2004). Whereas recommendations have been made about the structure and function of these teams, there is a notable absence of literature on how these teams coordinate with other emergency personnel. In particular, guidance regarding how the school crisis team fits within the federal government's National Incident Management System (NIMS) has been scarce.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2004) developed the NIMS to help facilitate a standardized response to emergencies. A central component of NIMS is the Incident Command System (ICS). Consistent with guidance offered by Brock, Jimerson, and Hart (2006) and required in some states (e.g., California), it is important that school crisis teams conform to the NIMS and its ICS so that these teams can communicate in a common language with the many other agencies and response personnel that may be involved in responding to a crisis at school. Despite the use of the ICS by agencies such as the American Red Cross, electric companies, emergency management, fire, law enforcement, public health, and public works/highway departments (Landesman, 2005), a review of the literature indicates that school crisis teams are rarely described within this infrastructure and when they are, the ICS is mentioned only briefly (e.g., U.S. Department of Education, 2003). However, this issue has received attention recently. For instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers an independent study course on Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools (http:// www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is362.asp). In addition, Brock et al. (2006) have offered an indepth description of how the ICS can provide the infrastructure for delineating the roles and duties of school crisis team members, specifically with regard to the prevention, preparation, response, and recovery from school violence. The following provides a description of the ICS, reviews the current status of school crisis teams, proposes how school crisis teams can comply with the ICS, and provides two examples of how the school crisis team may operate within the ICS in different emergencies affecting schools.

School Crisis Teams

Recent surveys of school psychologists provide evidence that crisis response teams are prevalent in schools, with 93% of respondents in Nickerson and Zhe's (2004) study indicating that their schools used these teams and 76% of respondents in Allen et al. 's (2002) study reporting that their districts had these teams. However, Graham, Shirm, Liggen, Aitken, and Dick's (2006) recent study of school superintendents revealed deficiencies in school emergency/disaster planning. …

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