Is Your Children’s School Prepared for a Disaster?

The decision which school your children will attend can be very complicated, or very simple. Sometimes the decision is as simple and direct as which school is closest to your home. Other times the decision involves the availability of before or after school care, tuition costs, programs for sports or academics, special needs, or religious considerations.

But how many parents choose their children’s’ school based on that school’s disaster preparation?

According to experts, not many schools are prepared for a major emergency. In fact, more than half of the states do not require schools or day care centers to meet minimum standards to protect children during major emergencies, according to a report by Save the Children.

“Children are among the most vulnerable in an emergency. Parents assume their children go to school or child care and they are protected, but the events of the past year showed the emergency plans in place are not enough.”

~ Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, Save the Children’s senior director for U.S. emergencies

Marietta, GA has made school safety a priority. Features at Marietta High School include:

  • more than 100 high-def security cameras
  • two city police officers
  • halls designed straight with no corners where a gunman could hide

So, your children are enrolled in school. What can you as a parent do to find out what your school’s emergency plan is? Following is a list of practical questions parents should be asking their children’s school to determine if they are prepared for an emergency.

10 Practical Things Parents Can Do to Assess School Security and Crisis Preparedness

By Kenneth S. Trump, M.P.A.

National School Safety and Security Services

Parents & School Safety

  1. Ask your child about safety in his or her school. Students often know where gaps in security exist and what can be done to improve school safety.  Where do they feel most safe? Least safe? Why? What can be done to improve safety?
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  3. Identify comfort levels and methods for reporting safety concerns.  Do students have at least one adult they would feel comfortable in reporting safety concerns to at school? Are there other methods (hotlines, email tip lines, etc.) for students to report concerns? Are parents comfortable in addressing safety concerns with school administrators?
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  5. Examine access to your school.  Are there a reduced number of doors that can be accessed from the outside (while still allowing children to exit from the inside in an emergency)?  Do faculty and staff greet visitors, challenge strangers and know who is in their school? Are there sign-in procedures, visitor identification badges, etc.?
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  7. Find out if your school has policies and procedures on security and emergency preparedness.  Does your board and administration have written policies and procedures related to security, crisis preparedness planning, and overall school safety planning? If so, are they communicated clearly and regularly to students, school employees and parents? How? When? Parents & School Safety
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  9. Determine if your school has a “living” school safety team, safety plan and ongoing process, as well as a school crisis team and school emergency/crisis preparedness guidelines.  Does your school have a school safety committee to develop an overall plan for prevention, intervention, and security issues? Are these plans balanced and not just prevention-only or security-only? Is there a school crisis team to deal with emergency planning?  Who are members of the safety committee and crisis team? How often do they meet? Is there a written school crisis plan? Are there written emergency/crisis guidelines? Are these plans and guidelines reviewed regularly – at least once a year?  (Note: Many schools have one overall team to address both overall safety planning and crisis preparedness.  Two separate groups are not necessary as long as they are dealing with all of the various issues and components.)
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  11. Inquire with school and public safety officials as to whether school officials use internal security specialists and outside public safety resources to develop safety plans and crisis guidelines.  Do school officials actively involve internal school security specialists, School Resource Officers, and other school safety specialists in developing safety plans and crisis guidelines? Do school officials have meaningful, working relationships with police, fire and other public safety agencies serving their schools? Are they involved on school safety committees and teams and/or do they have direct input on school plans?
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  13. Ask if school emergency/crisis guidelines are tested and exercised. Do school officials test and exercise written crisis guidelines?  What type of tests do they do? For example, if they have a lockdown procedure, do they conduct periodic drills to practice them? If they cannot have full-scale exercises of emergency plans (which are often difficult to do), do they at least do tabletop exercises to test written plans?
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  15. Determine whether school employees, including support personnel, have received training on school security and crisis preparedness issues.  Have school employees received training on security and emergency strategies by local, state and/or national specialists? Have employees also received training on their school/district specific crisis guidelines?  Are all employees, including support personnel such as secretaries and custodians, included in such training? How often is such training provided? Is the training provided by qualified and experienced instructors with knowledge of K-12 specific safety issues?
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  17. Find out if school officials use outside resources and sources in their ongoing school safety assessments.  Do school officials subscribe to current publications addressing security issues? Do they attend conferences and programs on school safety? Have they reviewed their security measures, crisis guidelines and safety plans with recommendations by school safety experts?
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  19. Honestly evaluate whether you, as a parent, are doing your part in making schools safe.  Do you follow parking, visitor, and other safety procedures at your school? Do you support teachers and administrators with safety initiatives, including by asking the above questions in a supportive, non-blaming manner? Do you talk with your child about personal safety considerations, drug and violence prevention issues, and related topics early and regularly at home?  Do you seek professional help for your child in a timely manner, if needed?
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