Creating Plans Too Quickly Can Be Costly

When it comes to crisis planning, quality is more important than speed.

I have been working all week with two Indiana school corporations on their Readiness Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) projects. These are grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to help schools develop all hazards four-phase school crisis plans. 

In our discussions, I have emphasized the need for long term planning and cultural changes as a core focus rather than seeing the projects as a series of tasks to be completed by a deadline. We worked on 21 REMS projects this year and on assessment projects for school districts that have completed a REMS project. In these assessments, we conducted interviews with school employees and facilitated hundreds of short scripted and video tabletop school crisis scenarios to see how well prepared these staff were for emergency situations. In particular, we tested their ability to implement life-saving emergency protocols, such as pulling a fire alarm, evacuating students, sheltering students from tornadoes, calling 911 or ordering a lockdown. 

We have found that on average, the staff interviewed missed just below one life saving action step per scenario. The inability of so many staff to perform such significant yet simple steps when presented with a life or death situation under only moderate stress levels indicates the type of deadly flaw seen in too many school crisis situations in the past.

We emphasize the need for speed AFTER the organization and its people have been carefully brought up to speed over time.

Our clients have found the following concepts to be helpful:

  1. Establish needs through the vulnerability and assessment process.
  2. Identify key planning team members.
  3. Identify all staff, and identify how they will be provided with a written plan component that is appropriate to their role in an emergency, how they will be trained and how they will participate and be evaluated during drills, tabletop, functional and full-scale exercises.
  4. Develop the planning system and planning components with an emphasis on written plan components and a stated philosophy that any electronic plan component is of secondary and supportive importance rather than a primary means of preparedness for people.
  5. Test the plans and have someone with an emergency management background perform an independent evaluation to spot gaps that may not be seen by those who are too close to the plan because they helped develop it and have read it too many times.
  6. Issue the plan components, document this and provide documented training via live, video or Web training (or a combination).
  7. Implement the progressive exercise program with an emphasis on building competency and confidence on core emergency protocols like reverse evacuation, lockdown, fire evacuation, shelter in place for hazardous materials, room clear, earthquake and tornado sheltering etc. A particular emphasis should be on the ability of staff to perform under stress through evidence based concepts and preparing staff to perform directed as well as self directed actions. 
  8. Continually evaluate and improve your plans.

Campus officials have found these key areas to be very helpful in reducing mistakes and improving performance for actual school crisis situations. The confidence as well as the quality that these approaches can create are significant as are the results if tragedy strikes. 

Moving methodically and steadily forward will yield superior quality and reliability, and may someday save human lives.



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About the Author


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 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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