School Evacuations and Reunion Sites

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The following section is excerpted from School Safety 101 and describes the two most common types of school evacuation drills and the characteristics of a typical reunion site.  School evacuations and reunion sites should be detailed in the school crisis response plan and utilized in each campuses school safety drill program.  The Community Safety Institute recommends that schools practice an off-site evacuation drill once a year and on-site drills at least once per semester. EvacuationAn evacuation is necessary when imminent danger requires a move to a safer location.

  • On-site evacuation is when persons are removed from school to a safe location on the premises or nearby property.  The most common on-site evacuation is a fire drill where students are directed to leave the building and assemble at safe locations on or near the campus.  On-site evacuations involve moving students to within walking distance and most often remaining on campus.

Off-site evacuation occurs when persons are removed from the school to a remote safe location such as a primary evacuation site or directly to the reunion site.  An off-site evacuation usually requires transportation.

    • Primary Evacuation Site is a location used to secure individuals from potential harm.  The primary evacuation site may also be the reunion site if students are transported to the location; however, is at most schools a primary evacuation site is located within walking distance and utilized as a staging ground until students are transported to the designated Reunion Site.
    • Secondary Evacuation Site is an alternate location used to secure individuals and minimize harm.  This site can be on or off campus, and may be utilized until students are transported to the designated Reunion Site.
    • The Reunion Site is the secure physical location or place where students and their parents/guardians are reunited after an off-site evacuation has occurred.  This is the location to which students are transported, and the only place where students can be released to their parents/guardians after showing an official form of identification and completing a release form.

One important distinction between an evacuation site and a reunion site is that often evacuation sites are not publicized for fear of secondary attacks against school officials or students, but reunion sites are always made public. One reason for this difference is that school districts that coordinate with their local law enforcement agencies already have identified the reunion site, and as soon as an off-site evacuation is ordered, emergency responders will secure the reunion site and begin establishing perimeters to control all access to and from the site.

As part of their community or parent outreach programs, school districts typically work with their local media outlets to ensure that parents and guardians are aware of reunion sites and of the policies and procedures in the student checkout process.  Many districts send home information at the beginning of the school year, while others may use e-mails, phone trees or the district’s website to keep parents informed of the status of the incident and when and where to claim students. They may also provide important information such as the procedure to expect at the reunion site prior to releasing students to parents. Often school districts will require one or more forms of identification and that the parent or guardian who is claiming the child be listed on the student’s emergency contact sheet as having permission to take the child.

For school districts which have not yet designated a reunion site or are seeking another location, some characteristics to consider include:

Secure facility

  • Ample parking to accommodate buses, parents’ vehicles, and emergency vehicles
  • Ample space to house all students and staff
  • Area to properly out-process students
  • Appropriate communications capabilities

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