No matter the age--from Pre-K/Elementary School to higher education-- communities and families expect schools and learning institutions to ensure their children and youth are safe in the face of an emergency, including violence, crime, natural disasters, epidemics, and accidents. It is critical for schools/institutions of higher education and communities to work together to develop plans that can be effectively implemented in the event of an emergency.
Safe and supportive learning environments provide a foundation of positive relationships and systems that can help staff and students better face the challenges of managing during an emergency, as well as the resilience to overcome the challenges emergencies present. To effectively prepare for and manage an emergency, promoting and maintaining safe supportive learning environments is key.
It is critical that schools build a safe and supportive learning environment that develops students' protective factors before a crisis occurs and maintain and build the learning environment after an emergency.
Schools must work to identify early warning signs of problem behaviors and develop prevention, intervention and crisis response plans. But schools' focus should not be exclusive to the reduction of behavior problems; school communities must also work to foster positive behavioral outcomes through well-designed, evidence-based programs, such as social and emotional learning programs and positive behavior supports.
In the event of an emergency or tragedy, school staff will be first responders. The Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8 provides guidance to communities in preventing attacks against national security threats. The five mission areas of this preparedness framework is amenable to the planning activities of schools in the prevention of, protection against, mitigation of damage from, response to and recovery from threats and/or emergencies. Schools and communities should work together to develop capacity in these areas to ensure the safety and resilience of students, staff, and families. FEMA defines these areas as follows:
- Prevention - avoid, deter, or stop an imminent crime or threatened or actual mass casualty incident.
- Protection - secure schools against acts of violence and manmade or natural disasters.
- Mitigation - eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property damage by lessening the impact of an event or emergency.
- Response - stabilize an emergency once it has already happened or is certain to happen in an unpreventable way.
- Recovery - assist schools and communities affected by an event or emergency in restoring a safe and supportive learning environment.
To learn more about this policy directive, visit FEMA's website at: http://www.fema.gov/learn-about-presidential-policy-directive-8
In developing preventive and protective measures, the emergency planning process must be inclusive of and responsive to the unique environmental and cultural aspects of a school and the surrounding community to be most effective in keeping students and staff safe and helping them recover after an incident. The active engagement of community stakeholders (e.g., law enforcement, mental health professionals) and school staff at all levels builds the capacity of multiple entities to assist in the event of an emergency. Therefore, FEMA suggests the following principles guide schools' planning processes:
- Planning must be supported by leadership
- Planning uses assessment to customize plans to the building level
- Planning considers all threats and hazards
- Planning provides for the access and functional needs of the whole school community
- Planning considers all settings and all times
- Creating and revising a model emergency operations plan is done by following a collaborative process
For additional planning information and guidance, consult the REMS Center for developing high-quality emergency plans for schools at: http://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (2013). Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans. Washington, DC.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (2013). Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutes of Higher Education.Washington, DC.
Dwyer, K., Osher, D., and Warger, C. (1998). Early warning, timely response: A guide to safe schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.