3 Steps to Creating a Family Reunification Plan
Having a plan will improve cooperation with parents and help first responders.
During an emergency, an average of two to three adults may come to the school for each student. Photo by Rachel Wilson, Safe Havens International
Family reunification is a functional protocol that outlines the redirection of a school’s occupants to a secured site that is removed from the scene of the crisis and supports the effort to reunite students with their families. In many school crises, even those not related to violence or immediate danger, parents and loved ones may rush to the school to sign out their child. Based on a wide range of emergencies that we have studied, an average of two to three adults may come to the school for each student.
In some situations, this phenomenon has caused critical delays in life-saving response from police, fire and medical personnel trying to get to the scene. In one case, emergency medical technicians had to carry stretchers for several blocks from their vehicles past a traffic jam to reach a school where a shooting had occurred. It is important for parents to understand that the school has a plan in place for reunification for several reasons: 1) it aids in emergency response because parents are already aware that there will be an off-site reunification; 2) it increases cooperation from parents because they have confidence that the school is prepared for a crisis; 3) it increases participation in keeping contact information updated, since this will be the method of notification during a crisis event.
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In order to achieve this type of relocation, detailed planning must be undertaken. Here are three of the main components of the process that is required to develop successful reunification plans:
- Write procedures and protocols: This activity will require an intensive session of writing, discussion and quick decision making. The plan must contain a robust logistics component as well as protocols and procedures for faculty, staff, volunteers and parents. It should also include a decision-making metric so school officials can quickly determine when to activate the protocol. This type of crisis plan should be a part of the overall school safety plan for the district. Family reunification procedures are just one component of an emergency response plan, which should also include protocols for evacuation, reverse evacuation, two forms of lockdown, room clear, shelter in place and other key emergency functions.
- Develop Job Action Sheets: Job Action Sheets (JAS) are a tool for defining and performing a specific emergency response functional role. When developing a family reunification program, it is important to identify key tasks and create job actions for those tasks based on the procedures and protocols that were developed previously. This step cannot take place until plans are completed.
- Exercises and drills: Make sure that everyone (including front office staff) actively participates in exercises and drills for this type of school evacuation. Exercises that test transportation, crisis communication as well as emergency functions are key to the success of the plan. As with JAS, this step of the process must not be performed until plans and protocols are completed. A family reunification exercise is a great way to test how plans will perform in action, but the process of developing and carrying out the exercise can be complex and can be dangerous if not done properly.
Here are some additional things to consider when creating family reunification protocols for staff: