School Crisis Response Plan

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The School Crisis Response Plan is a detailed guide that: defines the terminology used with regard to crisis response (Shelter-in-Place, Lockdown, Evacuation, and Reunion Site); sets forth the chain of command with the duties associated with each position; explains what a command post is; sets forth the duties of on-site Crisis Response Team Members; gives types of drills and evacuations; provides for the naming of evacuation sites; explains the necessity for accounting for all students and staff during a crisis; discusses a media staging area; provides for listing of students or staff who require special assistance; names school staff trained to render first aid and CPR; discusses joint occupancy (if applicable); covers a timetable for debriefing; and explains the Parent-Child Reunification Process. The Crisis Response Plan details how critical incidents will be addressed; by whom and under what conditions specific actions will be taken (such as ordering a shelter-in-place or evacuating a facility). This plan is usually supported by even more detailed campus- or facility-specific procedures that provide step-by-step instructions to faculty and staff. The Community Safety Institute recommends that Crisis Response Plans should be specifically tailored to meet the needs and conditions of individual campuses and school districts.

Because each district and campus is unique with distinct demographics, physical design and personnel characteristics, it is incumbent upon school officials to ensure that each plan is specifically developed or adapted for each individual campus.

Since Crisis Response Plans detail specific information such as escape routes, muster or assembly locations, and evacuation procedures, they should never be “cut and pasted” from another district or facility. Once developed, each plan should be tested to ensure that the plan is realistic and can indeed be implemented if and when needed.

One school district’s plan specified that their on-site evacuation location was in an old elementary school on an unused portion of campus. That would have been fine except no one had keys to get into the building in an emergency and, when inspected during a school safety audit, it was discovered that the entire building was being used for storage by another group; there was no room inside to even temporarily house students and staff in an emergency. Crisis Response Plans must be practical and useful documents that can be realistically implemented during a critical incident or emergency.

Throughout the nation, schools are developing, enhancing or modifying their Crisis Response Plans to include a variety of possible incidents that districts may face during the course of the school year. As these plans are provided to staff, administrators must be cognizant of the terms that are being used.

In some districts the terms “shelter-in-place” and “lockdown” are often used interchangeably, when in fact these terms have separate and distinct meanings.  In fact, schools can ‘shelter-in-place’ in the event of bad weather, effectively ‘locking down’ their students inside while keeping their doors open and accessible for others on the outside seeking shelter from the storm. On the other hand, a “lockdown” denotes that the building is secured and that no one enters or leaves the premises until the “All Clear” is given or when directed to do so by school or emergency personnel.

Some other common elements included in school crisis response plans and detailed in School Safety 101 are:

Command Post

Access to computers, phones, fax and printer is recommended for any location chosen as the Command Post. Both primary and alternate locations should be chosen. A command post might sometimes be outdoors, such as on a parking lot or an athletic field or stadium.

Media Staging Area

The media staging area should be separate from any multi-hazard evacuation location or parent/child reunion area. It might be located on a nearby street, or in a park, open area, or commercial area.

Parent-Child Reunification Process (PCR)

The school’s Parent/Child Reunification Process (PCR) is an integral part of a Crisis Response Plan and Communications Plan, and should include the details of reuniting children with their parents or guardians.  The crisis plan should include the methods of communicating the PCR process to parents or guardians (e.g., principal’s newsletter, school web page).

Crisis response planning is crucial for each and every district in the nation. Although your chances of being victimized by a school shooter or other violent episode remain small, the possibility of your school being used as a shelter during a severe weather event, or evacuated because of a fire or hazardous materials spill, is a distinct possibility. Schools must be prepared for all-hazard incidents, and developing a Crisis Response Plan is a step in the right direction.

This plan will provide not only guidance and direction in an emergency but provide specific policies and procedures to follow. It will outline duties and responsibilities, and list partnerships and districts or organizations that can assist during a traumatic event or natural disaster.

A Crisis Response Plan needs to be a living document that is updated often, practiced regularly by all school personnel in order to be effective and properly utilized during an emergency.