How to Ensure Parents Understand and Follow School Emergency Protocols

Parents must follow school emergency protocols to avoid further complicating an incident, and continuous communication from the school is key.

How to Ensure Parents Understand and Follow School Emergency Protocols

Photo: Julien Eichinger, Adobe Stock

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.

School emergencies happen. In 2022, over 50 shooting incidents in schools resulted in an injury or death. That number on its own is horrifying, but one has also to remember that emergencies happen beyond the nightmare of a shooting. There are gas leaks, carbon monoxide issues, water line breaks, fires, tornadoes, and any other number of issues that can befall all types of buildings —  especially those in the public school system whose facilities are often aging and not repaired in a timely manner.

At the end of the day, a school’s number one priority is to return the students safely to their families. Over the past 24 years, since the Columbine tragedy, parents’ and caregivers’ concerns about whether or not this will happen have steadily grown, and rightfully so. No one knows this reality more than Missy Dodds, a survivor of the 2005 Red Lake High School shooting in Minnesota. Dodds was in the middle of teaching math class when a former student fired into her classroom, killing five of her students and one coworker before taking his own life. Forever changed, Dodds has made it her mission to help protect students and teachers.

Currently, Dodds is the Parent Ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit organization that was founded by parents who lost their children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. One of Safe and Sound Schools’ proud sponsors is Status Solutions, a situational awareness company that was founded, after the Columbine tragedy, on the belief that technology can help save lives. Through this friendship, Danielle Myers, Head Evangelist at Status Solutions, is partnering with Dodds to help educate parents on what to do if their student’s school is in an emergency situation.

Dodds and Myers are both parents of elementary-aged children and understand the desire of a parent to rush to their child’s school in an emergency. Still, they emphasize it is important for parents to follow the protocols put in place by schools, because not doing so in an emergency can do more harm than good.

Below are recommended protocols for how parents and teachers can work together to ensure students understand the correct protocols in a school emergency.

Recommended Protocols for Schools to Support Parents in an Emergency Situation

  • Share the Protocols – It goes without saying, that a plan is no good if it isn’t shared. Most schools have well-thought-out plans for all sorts of emergencies. Parents play a crucial role in knowing the established plans and protocols. Consequently, schools need to be certain that the protocols are presented to parents in an easily consumable manner. Long-winded bodies of text are quite simply not going to be read. Instead, convey information through concise bullet points, with a redundant presence on more than one platform, which allows for this information to be easily found and easily consumed.
  • Share Where Communication Will Take Place – Schools should make certain that families are aware of how they will communicate in an emergency. Whether that is through mass texting, emailing, or even Twitter, families need to know how communication will happen. In this case, redundancy is best.
  • Have a Designated Off-Site Location – Schools should have a designated location for emergency evacuations that families are made aware of at the beginning of the year. This way in the event of an emergency, parents can congregate at the evacuation location instead of rushing to the school.
  • Schools Should Inform Families of Drills – Informing families of something as simple as when a tornado or fire drill occurs allows the parents the opportunity to open a dialogue at home. Talking about emergencies and how to handle them both at school and home is mutually beneficial.
  • Explain Reporting – Schools should explain to parents and students how to report any concerns, even if they choose to do so anonymously. Parents, families, students, and teachers should never fear a backlash from reporting a concern.

Recommended Protocols for Parents in an Emergency Situation

  • Do Not Call or Text Your Student – We understand the desire to call or text your child in an emergency, however, it may be putting them at risk. Students are taught to hide and remain silent when in lockdown. A phone ringing, a text chiming, or even the sound of a vibration could call attention to a child who is trying to stay out of the sight of an intruder.
  • Do Not Rush to the School – In an emergency, the school’s only priority is to keep everyone safe. The teachers, staff, and first responders will be hard at work trying to protect everyone. Families rushing to the building can lead to first responders not being able to get through to the school. Suddenly the police and fire find themselves having to deal with crowd control instead of putting their efforts elsewhere.
  • Do Not Call the School – The school administration will provide information as quickly as possible. Each parent should be aware of and have signed up for whichever method each district uses for mass communication. Keep in mind that cell phones often quit working in emergencies because of a usage overload on the networks. It is best to wait for communication from the school.
  • Have Updated Emergency Contact Information – Parents must ensure that the school has a working phone number for each student’s emergency contact. If the number changes, the school must be informed.
  • Be Aware of Reunification Processes – Generally, schools already have designated emergency evacuation locations. These are often other schools or churches nearby. Families picking up their children will be required to have an appropriate ID. This is another reason updated emergency contact information is so important.
  • Communicate On All Fronts – Parents should talk to their children about emergencies. Have a family plan for how you will communicate and what the protocol for reunification will be. Children should talk to their parents about things they hear and see at school, but the parents and caregivers must set the tone by creating an environment where this can happen. Always report concerns, even if it’s simply leaving an anonymous note for a teacher or administrator.

School safety is a community-wide effort. The protocols put in place play a critical role in ensuring the well-being and security of students, teachers, and staff. In an ever-changing and unpredictable world, schools must educate parents on their unique roles in school safety. Following them can help save lives and prevent chaos.

Working together, both the school and the families can help create an environment where learning can thrive without compromising security.

A survivor of the Red Lake High School mass shooting that claimed the lives of five students and one employee, Missy Dodds works as a national speaker and trainer for Safe and Sound Schools. She serves as a parent stakeholder on her local school district’s Emergency Operation Planning Committee and o the Bemidji ARea Boys and Girls Club Program and Safety Committee. 

Danielle Myers is general manager and lead evangelist at Status Solutions. She has experience in several markets, including education, senior living, health care, manufacturing, hospitality and government. 

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