Selecting the Right Emergency Management System for Your School District
With school safety at stake, choosing the right emergency management system is critical.
How well can your school district handle an unexpected emergency? School shootings are the most publicized and frightening, but school emergencies can include natural disasters like snowstorms, tornadoes or earthquakes, as well as pandemics or local incidents like a fire in the locker room, suspicious activity on the playground, police action in the neighborhood, or bullying and student wellness crises.
In all such cases, schools need an emergency management system already in place that is easily implemented, whatever the level of the incident. The district safety team needs to know where staff and students are located so they can account for every individual. They must also be able to communicate with teachers, school sites, district administration, law enforcement and first responders, as needed.
A software solution can provide the integrated system to meet many school emergency needs. Here are some components to consider when you are researching an emergency management software system for your district.
Anonymous Tip Reporting
Anonymous online reports often provide an important first step in managing threats to a school, student or employee. With anonymous tip reporting, students, parents and community members can report situations anonymously through the school or district website. These may include:
- Suspicious activity
- Damage or harm to school or property
- Discrimination or harassment
- Harm to self or others
- Gunman/violent intruder
- Natural disaster
Once a report is submitted, your dedicated response team or site safety team should be notified via text and email so that they can address and respond to the anonymous report in a timely manner. The ability to respond anonymously to submitters via the software system is important.
Some states are now implementing strict anti-bullying laws, making it important to have bullying software in place to help you remain compliant. Your software should allow you to receive anonymous reports, keep a record of how the report was handled, automatically notify law enforcement as needed and archive the report for future reference.
If your school or district partners with a 24/7 monitoring center, your staff doesn’t need to do monitoring themselves.
When a situation arises, your emergency management solution should be able to send automatic emergency alerts via phone, text and email to your specified emergency phone tree. The individuals on this phone tree might include district administrators, safety teams, teachers, staff, substitutes, law enforcement and other first responders.
The ability to alert safety teams on other sites near your school is an important feature as is IP/Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) integration for automated classroom calls and public address system (PA) announcements.
It is helpful when action alerts can be customized to align with your district’s safety terminology.
Real-Time Emergency Management
An incident reporting and escalation process allows changing response to a crisis, such as lockdown, lockout, shelter in place and active assailant. Your emergency management system should offer real-time student and staff accountability, digital emergency resources, two-way communication and first responder integration.
- Real-Time Student Accountability: Integration with active directory and your student information system makes it easy to locate students
and staff by allowing automatic population of teacher and student lists. When staff logs on, the system automatically knows the bell schedule and quickly presents the teacher with the correct roster. Teachers can immediately do a quick roll call, report their students’ safety status and pin their location on a Google map. User status and location can be updated at any time. This quickly generates an accurate list of any student and staff not accounted for, giving users a real-time view of what is happening within the building and where help can be directed.
- 2-Way Teacher Communication: One-on-one communication with teachers is vital in an emergency, keeping information current and accurate. Safety teams can communicate information about the incident to teachers and staff while allowing them to communicate back with emergency questions and information. Direct communication to classroom phones via a VoIP network is an important addition for full emergency alert coverage. This may also provide an intercom feature to allow incoming messages to be broadcast automatically from classroom phones.
- Law Enforcement and 9-1-1 Integration: Check to see if the system you are considering allows law enforcement and first responders to receive alerts associated with your site. Ask if this is available at no extra cost and whether it is customizable so that they receive communication the way they need it.
At the conclusion of a crisis, your emergency management system should be able to initiate a reunification process to reunite students with their emergency contacts. This should be quick and easy to follow with compliance and actions built in. The system should be able to send out information to emergency contacts, assign jobs to administrators, and reunify students with a streamlined and universal method for your district. A good model is alignment with the “I Love U Guys” Foundation’s Standard Reunification Process.
Responsive Design and Archives
Make sure your emergency management system features responsive design that works across a range of district and personal devices – desktops, tablets and phones.
Another consideration is whether a phone app is offered but not required, so that personnel are not required to use their personal devices. A mobile-responsive website should allow personnel to access the system from district-supplied devices and email.
Drills and incident information should be archived for future retrieval. Administrators and safety teams can use archived details to review incidents and overcome any problem areas.
Before you choose a system, clarify how easy it is to learn and what the training is like. Make sure your vendor has worked with school districts to minimize the amount of training teachers require while still enabling them to fully use the system. Possible training options include learning management system training, virtual trainings and onsite trainings.
Find out if vendor personnel audit district/site drills to make sure staff are using the software correctly. Drill mode allows your staff to test the system before an emergency.
Ask about digital resources, including emergency procedure manuals, checklists, scripts and evacuation maps.
Student Privacy and FERPA Certification
Look for certified compliance in the following areas:
- The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
- Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)
- California Education Code 49073.6 – Collection of Student Information from Social Media
- California AB 1584, Education Code section 49073.1 – Privacy of Pupil Records: 3rd-Party Digital Storage & Education Software
- Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA)
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
Jason Jeffery is the President and CEO of Catapult K12 of Roseville and Chico, California, whose emergency management solution Catapult EMS is a cloud-based emergency management and communication software system designed for K-12 schools. For more information, visit https://www.catapultemergencymanagement.com.
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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!