Why Your School Needs a Common Initial Emergency Response Plan and Where to Start

A school security analyst shares how Idaho schools worked with first responders to establish a common initial response platform for emergencies.

Why Your School Needs a Common Initial Emergency Response Plan and Where to Start

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The 4 ISCRS Protocols Dissected

Commonly called a fire drill, Evacuation, the first of the four ISCRS protocols, is used when there is a need for the school community to leave the school. Evacuation of a school facility for any reason should follow the same protocol. This process includes four steps:

  1. Notification of the school population of the desired response
  2. Preparation for both movement through the school and sustainability once outside
  3. Expedited movement from the classroom to the rally point with safety rather than speed as the primary concern
  4. Positive accounting for all persons in the building at the inception of the evacuation process

Following the Parkland school shooting, there has been some discussion on utility and the process of evacuation. The Evacuation still serves a purpose in K-12 schools. In 2016, the U.S. Fire Administration reported 286 fires in schools — significantly more than the number of school shootings for the same period. The very low loss of life and relatively few injuries in school fires can be directly attributed to three factors in play beginning in the early 1950s. The first is improved building codes for school facilities. Next are vastly improved detection and alarm technology required in schools. Lastly is the implementation of a consistent evacuation exercise requirement for school staff and students.

The improvements in construction requirements, detection technology, and the concern of active violence have made speed a lower priority in evacuations. The addition of highly intentional movement, situational awareness, and an options-based understanding of the evacuation process requires adaptability. This will provide a school population the capability to address a potential act of violence without increasing the threat potential from fire.

Lockdowns, sheltering procedures for severe weather, and other critical life-saving protocols cannot be implemented rapidly if there is no mechanism to promptly return students from outside back into the building in an organized fashion. The Reverse Evacuation meets this need.

Students and staff in a school may be outside the building during the school day for any number of reasons, including recess, lunch, or simply student movement from building to building. Most schools have an operational process to move students back into the building and are already familiar with the basic concept of a reverse evacuation. However, very few understand it as a formal procedure and often delay action while considering what to do when they need to return to the building quickly.

With notification of a threat in proximity to the building, a much more rapid process will be required. A specific notification not used for any other process produces immediate expedited movement from the exterior to the interior of the building. Once the school population is inside the building, the perimeter is secured, and students are accounted for in a safe condition and prepared for the next action that may be required.

Hall Check is a distinct response action for unknown conditions. Hall Check moves a school population to a secure posture without completely disrupting the educational process. Hall Check serves four distinct functions, each equally important. The first is to call staff to a level of situational awareness outside their classroom. Second is detection; check the hall and surrounding area and report anything odd or unusual. The third is to enhance the security posture by stopping movement inside the school, returning students to the classroom for accounting, and securing the classroom. Last is minimal disruption to the educational process and continuing instruction. This is the “Swiss Army Knife” of school response applicable to any unknown situation in a school. It offers an increased security posture with the ability to move as easily to “Lockdown” as back to normal school operations once the situation is assessed.

Lockdown is for threats that are imminent or occurring. Acts of active violence in schools are chaotic, dynamic and rapidly evolving incidents. Detection, notification and immediate response are key to minimizing the impact. The ISCRS Lockdown protocol is also an “options-based” process that utilizes Move, Secure, Defend as the planning assumption.

The Sandy Hook School Shooting reports note that a secured classroom door has proven to be an effective response to an active shooter event in schools. Educators are trained to secure the space quickly and completely as the initial step. Use of secondary locking or door blocker devices that do not meet both NFPA and ADA code requirements is not recommended as a part of the ISCRS Lockdown protocol. Affirmative permission for teachers to defend their students and themselves is explicit in the protocol.

The old sports cliché certainly applies here: Practice what you want to play because you will play what you practice. However, rather than a drill, exercise is the preferred term. The term drill has come to mean the repetition of an inflexible process with time as the only measure of a successful practice. Schools have limited time to devote to an aggressive exercise/drill schedule. With that in mind, effective practice is a critical element in developing a viable response. The Idaho Office of School Safety and Security’s recommendation is that all exercises should be announced to school staff prior to execution. Unannounced drills can cause unnecessary stress for both students and staff without a corollary benefit. Additionally, any unannounced activation should be considered, by a school’s staff, as an incident in progress.

Keep It Simple

There are many benefits for K-12 schools to use a program like the ISCRS or others with similar characteristics, such as the “I Love You Guys” Standard Response protocols. Such a program provides for the necessary common initial elements in nearly any school emergency. The limited number of initial response protocols provides for a simpler deployment and implementation process. The training process is enhanced for the entire school population by limiting the scope of what training (and re-training) is needed and sustainability is enhanced. By the options-based nature and training, school staff is empowered to meet the specific needs at the classroom level.

Written protocol, training and support materials for the Idaho Standard Command Responses for Schools are available through the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security’s website.


Guy Bliesner is a school security analyst for the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security and a regular content contributor for Campus Safety.

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.

About the Author

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Guy Bliesner began his career in education in 1994 as a high school teacher and coach. Moving into administration in 2006 as the Safety and Security Coordinator for the Bonneville School District. While serving in that position he was named to the Idaho’s Governor’s School Safety Task Force. Also, during his Bonneville tenure, he was named a finalist for the 2011 Campus Safety Magazine’s national Campus Safety Director of the Year Award. In 2013 he left the district to form, with a partner, the private School Safety, Security, Risk Management consulting firm of Educators Eyes. This firm developed and implemented Idaho’s first statewide school safety and security condition assessment.

In 2016 he dissolved the firm to join, as a founding member, the newly created Idaho Office of School Safety and Security. He currently serves as the School Safety and Security Analyst assigned to schools in Southeast Idaho. His mission is to support the public and charter schools of southeast Idaho to bolster school safety through assessment, training, and planning assistance.

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