5 Simple Steps School Principals Can Take to Partner with First Responders

The information local police, fire officials and other first responders provide could make the difference between life and death.

“My students are in danger!” was the thought that ran through my mind as I walked across my elementary school campus with a local law enforcement officer for the first time. He was there to offer his expertise in reviewing our crisis plan and assess our campus for security threats.

Without question, the presence of another set of eyes, especially those of someone with law enforcement experience, was invaluable. In an instant, I realized that my knowledge of campus safety was limited, at best, and the information he provided could make the difference between life and death.

This moment was the birth of a cooperative partnership with first responders and my renewed zeal for creating partnerships for our school safety planning. As I continued to reach out to our local law enforcement, fire departments and other first responders, it became evident that they were more than willing to step forward to lend their expertise. I only needed to be willing to listen and heed their advice.

While the epiphany of involving first responders came suddenly, the relationships that contributed to mutual learning were not developed overnight. Many school principals, myself included, had been reluctant to involve law enforcement and other first responders in crisis planning and site assessments.

Common thoughts centered on several pervasive and key questions crossed my mind: What message would their presence send to parents? Will they think we have a problem that I should have resolved already? What if I cannot provide the safety components they recommend? 

I knew the answers to these questions could be found in the plethora of literature on school safety that emanated from past school shootings. Research in the wake of these events highlights the advantages of involving law enforcement and first responders. I knew that I needed to engage these key agencies, however, the literature does not adequately explain how to engage them. 

There are a multitude of steps that school principals can initiate to foster corroboration and cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other first responders. While there will always be a small element of anxiety where crisis planning is concerned, faculty, parents, staff and stakeholders must understand that welcoming emergency response agencies to your campus is vital to a school’s crisis planning success, and, ultimately, the survivability of children and faculty. Waiting until something tragic happens on your campus is not the time to initiate the conversation.

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School principals are extremely busy and may feel that inviting law enforcement and other agencies to their school will require too much time out of their already busy schedule. This is not necessarily the case. Additionally, we found that our local police chief and fire chief were happy to meet with us.

After that, our district took the following steps so that we would be able to not only work better with first responders, but also improve the safety and security of our students, teachers and staff.

Step 1: Tell police officers, fire personnel and other first responders that they are welcome to visit the school’s campus.  For example, our elementary school encourages local law enforcement officers and first responders to stop by and use the microwave to heat up lunch or refill coffee in the teacher’s lounge or cafeteria. Each time they set foot on the campus, they are becoming familiar with the campus layout. They also become familiar with the faces of the secretary, custodian, school counselor and many others who factor into the school’s emergency response plan. 

We also encourage police officers use our parking lot to write reports. Schools may also have parents of students who work in law enforcement or with first responder agencies. You will find that these parents are a valuable resource for advice on crisis planning as they enthusiastically share their skills and knowledge to enhance the school’s level of safety. 

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