Will Your Staff Respond Appropriately to High Stress Situations?

Without training, most employees forget to take life-saving steps during a crisis.

One critical aspect of campus crisis planning and preparedness efforts is how various staff members will be able to immediately implement life -saving actions under actual field conditions. 

Campus officials have so many factors and considerations when developing emergency preparedness plans, issuing them, training staff and conducting drills that it is easy and common to end up with simple yet serious gaps.  Often, when campus employees are posed with crisis scenarios that have life or death consequences, they state that they would call someone else to find out what to do.  Obviously, even a  30 second delay can be a major problem when you are confronted with an armed aggressor or a rapidly spreading fire.

In controlled simulations with hundreds of school employees from around the United States in recent months, our analysts have found that most employees routinely forget life saving steps, such as calling 911, implementing a lockdown, activating the fire alarm and other protective actions.  

Most of these simulations have been conducted as part of comprehensive assessment projects for districts that have completed at least one and in some instances two Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grants. One district reports that it spent more than a million dollars on a Web-based emergency management system, yet not one of its participating building administrators was able to name all necessary life or death action steps for moderately difficult scenarios, such as an angry parent brandishing a knife.

Fortunately, there are a variety of concepts that have been found to significantly improve the ability of campus personnel to think quickly and effectively under the extreme stress of a crisis event. Integrated role-specific plan components, properly structured training, training on crisis breathing, visualization techniques and a modified drill process that requires employees to utilize independent judgment can all help prepare employees and students to think fast and make improved decisions under stress. 

While no preparedness measures are foolproof, these concepts can reduce the likelihood that staff will fail to perform properly under extreme stress.

About the Author

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Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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