Plans Don’t Respond to School Emergencies, People Do

During a stressful emergency, cognitive function drops and manual dexterity lowers considerably, so people usually default to their training.

The push for schools to develop an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) has been and continues to be a major concern for K-12 schools across the nation. Planning guidance has been developed by government agencies at significant cost both at the state and federal levels. Thousands and thousands of man hours have been dedicated to this critical process by schools all over the country. In far too many cases, however, once the plan is complete, the participants in this process walk away believing that schools are now better prepared and their job is done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the course of our work, we have reviewed school EOPs in a large number of schools and school districts. In far too many cases, the plans are well conceived, thoughtful documents tailored to the needs of the school and community, but they bear no resemblance to anything the school staff has the ability to execute. The reason has nothing to do with the plan and everything to do with the lack of training and exercise for the school staff on the procedures contained in the plan. If the old catch phrase “failing to plan is planning to fail” is true, then the logical corollary, “failing to train is training to fail,” is equally true.

Staff Most Likely Won’t Rise to the Occasion
Often, when queried on the lack of EOP training, school administrators point to two factors.  First, administrators often state that with a whole staff of bright people, in an emergency, common sense will prevail and the staff will rise to the occasion.  The reality is that in a stressful emergency response situation, cognitive function drops and manual dexterity lowers considerably. Given this, people as a rule don’t rise to the occasion, they default to their training.

RELATED: 10 Keys to Testing Campus Preparedness

Second, there is little time available for non-education related training; particularly training that will likely interfere with the educational process. The fact is teachers already train constantly on the new math curriculum, the new reading program, Special Education Law and a dozen other things directly related to their primary focus, which is the education of children. As educators we get it. The key is to look for opportunities to integrate this training as much as possible with the normal educational process.

Take Advantage of the Monthly Fire Drill
One place to look for the integration of training opportunities is the monthly fire drill. A statutory requirement in most jurisdictions, in many cases this process is simply a race to the fence. Some months ago we wrote an article titled Fire Drills are a Waste of Time, describing a much more effective process for an evacuation exercise. If you must do the drill anyway (and you must in this case), then take the time to create an effective training opportunity. Additionally, you can approach your local fire marshal or fire chief and ask for permission to replace one or two of the ten required annual fire drills with the exercise for another of your EOP procedures.

Another consideration is integration of an exercise into daily operations. We recommend an intermediate security procedure we call a “Hall Check.” The hall check procedures require all students to return to their assigned class rooms, campus staff/teachers secure building perimeter doors and classroom doors, staff/teachers account for students and staff/teachers report any unusual activity. The process is intended to call all campus employees to a higher level of situational awareness and create an enhanced security posture. We have seen the hall check used prior to the Friday afternoon announcements, an excellent exercise and a creative way to assure a school community gets the information from the announcements.

Try 5-Minute Training Sessions at Teacher Meetings
Faculty meetings offer another training opportunity. The process need not be long or involved. A simple question as to the process to be used in one of your emergency procedures, or a brief tabletop scenario can be accomplished in 3 to 5 minutes.  Both will help increase general and do much to foster an If – Then mindset for a school staff.

This list is certainly not exhaustive but simply a starting place to find a way to increase training opportunities.

Training and Exercises Are Imperative
Planning is the critical first step in preparing a school to meet an emergency situation. Planning alone however is insufficient. Training and exercise is an absolute necessity so that everyone on campus will respond appropriately.

Brian Armes and Guy Bliesner are co-founders of Educators Eyes. Armes previously was a teacher and school principal, while Bliesner was previously an educator and health, safety and security coordinator for a school district in Idaho.

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.

Photo: Thinkstock

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